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Congress’ Cantankerous Immigration Start to the New Year –Business Immigration Caught in Cross Fire

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Congress’ Cantankerous Immigration Start to the New Year –Business Immigration Caught in Cross Fire

January 15, 2015 | Written by Laura J. Mazel

As anticipated, the New Year brings contentious immigration debate following President Obama’s immigration executive action taken in late November.  Republican leaders in several states have brought suit against the President and are seeking an injunction against helping the 4.7 undocumented immigrants in this country until the dust settles. On January 13th and 14th this week, Republicans controlling the House of Representatives voted to derail funding for the Department of Homeland Security.  While President Obama has promised to veto any appropriations bill that would undermine his executive action on immigration, we are all bracing for a filibuster in the Senate.  Employers are also bracing for Fiscal Year (FY) H-1B season.  Without an increase in the annual 65,000 H-1B quota and the 20,000 set aside for holders of U.S. advanced degrees, employers face another “FY H-1B Lottery” with an expected yield of less than 50%, which will once again leave many U.S. employers and key talent in the lurch.

Unfortunately, up until now, key business immigration improvements under President Obama’s executive action have taken a back seat to discussion of much needed, but limited, assistance the President accorded to 4.7 million undocumented individuals in this country.  Anxious employers and key foreign talent wait for agencies to execute the follow through mandated by the White House. 

This week, Senator Orrin Hatch and five other senators resurrected a 2013 bill known as the “I-Squared” Act.  According to the Senators’ press release, S. Bill 153 would increase the annual Fiscal Year H-1B quota from 65,000 to 115,000 immediately, and potentially raise the H-1B cap up to 195,000 when need arises, like Congress did years ago to respond to employers’ hiring demands.  The bill would also lift the limit of 20,000 set aside for holders of U.S. advanced degrees and provide other areas for employment based immigration relief, including, among other things, providing green cards on a faster track basis to highly educated people, and providing work authorization for spouses of H-1B workers.

Given the current political climate in the House, the bill faces an uphill battle. Most portions of the original I-Square legislation would be welcome news for U.S. employers.  Congress should take action now on Fiscal Year H-1B visas so that pockets of economic growth in the Bay area, San Diego, Austin, Boston and elsewhere can continue fueling our country’s economic recovery. 

As the President unequivocally related in November, he would be thrilled for his executive action to be rendered moot by action taken by Congress to achieve the same goals.  Senator Hatch’s bill marks a critical first step in the business immigration area. 

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