Immigration Reform Package Includes Tech Workers - InformationWeek

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1/29/2013
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Immigration Reform Package Includes Tech Workers

Separate bill would significantly increase the number of H-1B visas issued by the United States.

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Immigrants to the United States who have studied or work in technology might soon find it easier to become American citizens.

The bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform released Monday by eight Senators would award a green card to immigrants with graduate degrees from American universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.

"It makes no sense to educate the world's future innovators and entrepreneurs only to ultimately force them to leave our country at the moment they are most able to contribute to our economy," the proposal says.

The proposal, announced by Senators Charles Shumer, D-N.Y., John McCain, R-Ariz., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., includes four "legislative pillars," including "improving our legal immigration system and attracting the world's best and brightest."

[ Immigration reform in the U.K. hits an embarrassing snag. Read U.K. Immigration System Blasted For Data Errors. ]

Alongside the more comprehensive proposal, Sens. Rubio, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced Tuesday the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, which proposes to significantly increase the number of H-1B visas issued by the United States.

Although offered separately, the bill might eventually work its way into any comprehensive legislation. However, it could come up against opposition against Senators such as Durbin, who has criticized the H-1B program in the past for being "plagued with fraud and abuse."

The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 would raise the cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 for private sector workers, remove a cap on visas for science and tech workers with advanced degrees, and set up a mechanism to later increase the cap as high as 300,000 as demand for tech workers increases.

Previous efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform that included a nod to high tech have failed. However, in the wake of President Obama's re-election, which was bolstered in part by a strong showing by Latino voters, top politicians from both major political parties in the United States have stressed the need for changes to the U.S. immigration system.

Microsoft has come out in favor of the comprehensive immigration package, while Intel, Hewlett Packard, Google, and industry group TechAmerica are among the supporters of the Immigration Innovation Act.

President Obama began his own push for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech Tuesday in Nevada. In his remarks, the President hinted at his support for measures like those in the comprehensive reform framework and the Immigration Innovation Act.

"Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities," Obama said. "They're earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there's a good chance they'll have to leave our country."

Obama noted that both Intel and Instagram were started with the help of immigrants. "If you're a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, we should help you do that here," he said.

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