I-Squared Act of 2015
On January 13, 2015, Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), along with bipartisan group of Senators, introduced the “I-Squared Act of 2015” (also called the “Immigration Innovation Act of 2015”) in the Senate. Senator Hatch had introduced an earlier version of this bill in 2013, but the Senate failed to vote on it.
If passed, the I-Squared Act of 2015 will significantly increase the number of H-1B visas issued each year. It would also provide additional benefits to H-4 visa holders, as well as other changes to employment-based visas and green cards.
The following is a brief summary of the key provisions in the I-Squared Act:
- Increases the annual cap for H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000. In addition, the cap can be adjusted from 115,000 to 195,000 within a single fiscal year if there is existing market demand. The cap cannot drop below 115,000 and likewise cannot go above 195,000.
- Eliminates the annual cap of 20,000 for H-1B visas issued under the U.S. advanced degree category.
- Allows H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to obtain work authorization.
- Allows foreign students studying at U.S. colleges and universities to have “dual intent.” In other words, the bill allows students with F-1 visas to have intent to immigrate to the U.S.
- Allows individuals with a E-visa, H-visa, L-visa, O-visa, or P-visa to renew their nonimmigrant visas in the U.S.
- Establishes a grace period for E-visa, H-visa, L-visa, O-visa, and P-visa holders, which allows them to change jobs, not be out of status, and restore their visa validation.
- Eliminates the per country limit for employment-based green cards and increases the per country limit for family-based green cards from 7% to 15%.
- Allows green card numbers that were not used during the previous year to be recaptured and rolled-over into the following fiscal year to be issued to other qualified applicants.
- Excludes the following groups of people from the employment-based green card numerical grant limit: (1) Dependent spouses and children of employment-based immigrants; (2) Persons who hold a master’s or higher degree from a qualifying U.S. school in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, or math); (3) Outstanding professors and researchers; and (4) Persons with outstanding abilities.
- Establishes a grant program called the “Promoting American Ingenuity Account” to (1) strengthen STEM education by providing access to schools to qualified STEM instructors; (2) strengthen STEM education by increasing the availability of computer science courses in elementary and secondary schools; and (3) strengthen STEM education and training in colleges and universities. This program will be funded by increasing H-1B visa and employment-based green card application fees.
In particular, the change to the annual cap for H-1B visas is significant because the number of applications filed during the first five (5) business days filing period last year (FY2015) was approximately 172,500. This means that if the cap is increased to 195,000 during any one fiscal year, more applications can be filed throughout the year, allowing more skilled foreign workers to come to the U.S. In addition, by eliminating the annual cap for U.S. advanced degree H-1B visas, all eligible applicants will receive H-1B visas under this category. Moreover, by eliminating the per country limit for employment-based green cards, applicants from China and India who often face long delays in the adjudication of their green cards due to this limit will be able to obtain their green cards in a more timely manner.
The area of high-skilled immigration is long overdue for an update, so the hope is that the 114th Congress will pass the I-Squared Act of 2015.