High-Skilled Immigration Reform Front and Center as Immigration Reform Package Passes

High-Skilled Immigration Reform Front and Center as Immigration Reform Package Passes out of Senate Judiciary Committee

By Jamie Girard, senior director, SEMI

The Senate Judiciary Committee took a big step forward on May 21, 2013 by passing the comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, out of its committee. The Committee voted in a bipartisan fashion, 13-5, to favorably report the legislation to the Senate floor for consideration.  This is the first major action taken by the U.S. Congress since the failed immigration reform attempt in 2007, and represents the greatest opportunity to reform the system since that time.

While SEMI and other high-tech concerns have been pushing for reform to high-skilled immigration, a comprehensive approach to reforming the system now seems to be the best path forward for any real change.  That’s why SEMI has continued to work with the Compete America Coalition, a group of companies and associations committed to reforming the treatment of H1-B visas and green cards for highly-skilled workers.

S. 744 is the product of months of negotiations amongst a group of 8 bipartisan Senators, also known as the “Gang of 8.”  Included in the bill are many high-tech industry priorities such as awarding a permanent resident green card to any foreigner with a job offer in the U.S. and an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school.  It also raises the limit on the H-1B visas that go to highly-skilled immigrants from 65,000 to 115,000 a year, but also indexed to allow for as many as 180,000 in times of highest demand.

While the original version of the bill added some restrictions to those companies who use H1-B visas, a number of amendments offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a member of the “gang,” were accepted into the bill to restrict the most onerous regulations.  For example, the unemployment rate would no longer be a factor in how high the H-1B visa cap could go up, as long as it is not 4.5 percent or above for the highly-skilled professions in question. In addition, only those companies whose H1-B visa employees make up more than 15 percent of its workforce would have to offer jobs to qualified U.S. citizens first, along with other restrictions.

The movement made on this subject by the Senate Judiciary Committee is impressive, and with such a strong bipartisan vote in committee, the path forward on the Senate floor looks promising, if not without its own challenges.  A grand bargain like the one that was achieved in the Senate still has not come to fruition in the House of Representatives, which will be the biggest challenge in finally overhauling the nation’s outdated immigrations laws. SEMI will continue to work with policymakers to stress the importance of high-skilled immigration reform in the U.S.

If you have any questions regarding the immigration reform package that is moving through Congress, or any other matters of public policy, please contact Jamie Girard, senior director, Public Policy, SEMI Americas, at jgirard@semi.org or 202.393.5552.

June 4, 2013