For the first time in six years, Congress is giving serious thought to raising the current cap on the number of individuals eligible for H-1B visas issued annually to overseas professionals working for biopharmas and other U.S. tech employers.
Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013. The measure would raise the H-1B cap from the current 65,000 to 115,000—and even higher, under some circumstances.
An additional 20,000 H-1B visas would be available immediately if the cap limit is reached within 45 days after petitions can start to be filed. That number shrinks to an additional 15,000 H-1B visas if it takes 60 days to reach the cap limit, 10,000 if 90 days are needed, and 5,000 if the cap is reached during a 185-day period that ends on the 275th day petitions may be filed.
The I2 Act also calls for uncapping the existing U.S. advanced-degree exemption from the cap, now limited to 20,000 per year; authorizes employment for dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders; and exempts from the employment-based green card cap holders of advanced U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees; “outstanding” professors and researchers; and persons with “extraordinary ability.”
The visa cap applies to private biopharmas and other tech companies, but not to not-for-profits such as universities or research institutions. No biopharmas were among top 25 employers requesting H-1B visas during 2010–2011, yet uncapped employers generated 72% of demand for life scientists and 80% of demand for biological scientists, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics included in a Brookings Institution study last year.
“It leaves businesses uncertain on who can and can’t get hired. And if that best candidate happens to be a foreigner, they can’t hire that person because the cap is reached. It makes business difficult,” Neil Ruiz, senior policy analyst and associate fellow in Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, and co-author of “The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” told GEN.
Workers from India and China face waits of eight years of more for green cards in the employment-based second preference (EB-2) category, for people of “exceptional ability” and “advanced degree” holders, according to a study last year by the National Foundation for American Policy, which favors ending per-country limits for employment-based immigrants.