* Bill is part of long, uphill battle for immigration reform
* It will raise H-1B work visa quotas
* Seeks to help retain students who earn U.S. advanced
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, Jan 29 U.S. senators introduced a
new proposal on Tuesday to make life easier for highly skilled
immigrants and their employers to nourish America's
high-technology industries as Congress begins the long process
of tackling immigration reform.
A bipartisan bill, focused largely on highly educated
foreign workers, was introduced in Congress a day after another
group of senators unveiled a comprehensive plan for simplifying
the U.S. immigration system and giving illegal immigrants a
chance to become citizens.
Unlike Monday's plans, Tuesday's bill does not delve into
the question of illegal immigration, but offers measures that
would ease the legal process for U.S.-educated and other highly
skilled foreigners, particularly in fields of science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The skilled-worker measures are widely supported by the U.S.
technology sector, which has long argued that foreign-born
talent is crucial to meeting its job demands and to spur
innovation and competitiveness.
But the bill will be just one part of what is poised to be a
long, uphill battle for immigration reform that President Barack
Obama and members of Congress said they will make one of their
top priorities in part because of the notable role played by
Hispanics in re-electing Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
Many lawmakers from both parties would prefer to pass a law
that would tackle both the high-skilled worker concerns and the
much-thornier issue of what to do with America's 11 million
The new legislation, known as the Immigration Innovation Act
of 2013 or "I-Squared," proposes to nearly double the number of
H-1B work visas allowed per year, make the cap flexible
depending on employer demand and lift it entirely for foreigners
with advanced degrees earned in the United States.
"We must be a country that makes stuff again, that invents
things, that exports to the world. And to do that, we need the
world's talent. That is what this bill is about," said Senator
Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.
Klobuchar introduced the bill with Christopher Coons, a
Delaware Democrat who serves with her on the Senate Judiciary
Committee; Senator Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican and former
Judiciary Committee chairman; and Senator Marco Rubio, a rising
Republican star from Florida.
Scores of technology companies and groups - including Google
, Intel and Hewlett-Packard - supported
the bill, as tech business executives say they need more workers
than local talent can satisfy and hope for more visas for
foreign high-skilled labor.
"At a time when the U.S. economy needs it most, our
immigration policies are stifling innovation," Laszlo Bock,
Google's senior vice president of people operations, wrote on
the company's blog on Tuesday. He called the bill "a
common-sense solution that meets the needs of our high-tech
economy without harming domestic employment."
The U.S. government now caps H-1B visas at 65,000 per year,
a number routinely exhausted with just a few weeks worth of
applications. The visas are particularly popular with workers
The bill would raise the quota to 115,000 - and up to
300,000 depending on economic demands - and do away with the
H-1B cap for U.S.-educated immigrants with advanced degrees.
The legislation also proposes changes to the legal process
for student visas and green cards. For example, it would exempt
immigrants with advanced STEM degrees from having to comply with
green card visa quotas and suggests using some of the
immigration fees to fund STEM education and training.
"I for one have no fear that our country is going to be
overrun by PhDs. I for one have no fear that this country is
going to be overrun by nuclear physicists and inventors and
entrepreneurs," Rubio said in introducing the bill.
"We tell you, 'Come to America. We're going to let you go to
our best schools, we're going to teach you everything we know
and then we want you to go somewhere else'... That's not just
nonsensical, it is just crazy."