WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven and a bipartisan group of senators today introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (I2), a reform measure that will establish a market-based immigration system keyed to industry demand for skilled workers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. In addition to Hoeven, original cosponsors of the bill are Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
“I2 is about economic growth and job creation,” Hoeven said. “It allows highly skilled foreign workers into our country to innovate and contribute to America’s high-tech businesses. That will not only help us to keep our technological edge in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy, but also create good high-paying jobs for Americans here at home.”
Filling the U.S. Demand for Skilled Workers
Jobs in the STEM fields are among the fastest growing and best paying in the country, but those jobs are currently hard to fill with U.S. workers. For example, technology experts predict that between 2012 and 2020, the computer industry will create 120,000 computer science jobs, but U.S. universities will graduate only 40,000 STEM bachelor’s degree graduates. Those 80,000 unfilled technology jobs will still exist, but not in the United States.
To remedy skilled workforce shortages like this, I2 will establish a market-based system to increase the number of H-1B visas issued to foreign nationals based on industry demand. H-1B visas allow U.S. businesses to temporarily employ foreign workers in certain specialty occupations. The legislation also makes it easier for high skilled foreign workers to move from one employer to another without incurring high expenses and complex paperwork.
Tapping Highly Skilled Foreign Graduates of U.S. Schools
Further, the bill makes it easier for foreign students who get degrees at U.S. colleges and universities to join the STEM workforce and bring their talents and innovations to American companies.
Foreign students flock to U.S. universities because they’re the best in the world. Because it is difficult for these students to stay and work in the United States, however, they too often end up going back to their country of origin to put their education to work. I2 will make it easier for foreign students to stay in the United States after they graduate.
Reforming Immigrant Visas and Green Cards
The green card is effectively a permit issued by the U.S. government to foreign nationals allowing them to live and work in the U.S. Similarly, an immigrant visa is a document issued by the U.S. government abroad that allows an individual to travel to the U.S. and apply for admission as a legal, permanent resident.
I2 reforms both of these immigration statuses. First it exempts certain individuals – such as STEM degree holders, people with extraordinary abilities and outstanding professors or researchers – from the green card cap, meaning those who are equipped to make a contribution to the United States in the STEM fields will find it easier to come to and stay in the country.
The measure also eliminates per-country numerical limits on employment-based visas, which capped the number of visas issued to citizens of a specific country, and adjusts the limit on the number of immigrant visas.
Creating STEM Opportunities for U.S. Citizens
I2 also creates a new fully paid for grant program that will help states build and expand U.S. STEM education and worker retraining nationwide. It is estimated that up to $500 million could be collected, helping not only to meet the challenge of skilled workers shortages, but also to prepare the U.S. workforce for the jobs of the future.
The legislation is supported by more than two dozen technology employers and business organizations, including Microsoft, IBM, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Telecommunications Industry Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.