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The Immigration and Innovation Act sends a positive message to American business

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Peter-Muller-photo-150x150.jpgFollowing November’s elections, President Obama and Republican leaders focused on the importance of immigration reform and placed it high on the agenda for the 113th Congress.  This week, the President and Congress are kicking off the legislative effort. 

A bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled a set of principles yesterday to guide comprehensive immigration reform.  The principles call for a fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently in the country, reform to our legal immigration system including for highly skilled employees, an effective employment verification system and an improved system for admitting the workers we will need in the future.  While the principles don’t include many details they do provide a bipartisan framework for reform that has been absent in recent years.

The President will be in Las Vegas today to give his first policy speech about immigration reform since the November elections.  He is also expected to lay out principles for reform that will likely be similar to the plan put forward by the group of senators.  We have not yet seen the President’s remarks but expect high skilled immigration reform to be a key element of his plan.

And today in Washington, 10 leading Senators took the most concrete step toward reform by introducing wide-ranging, high-skilled immigration legislation that addresses nearly all of the key issues that are necessary for companies like Intel to hire the workers we need, when we need them. 

The bipartisan legislation, led by Senators Orrin Hatch (R), Amy Klobuchar (D), Marco Rubio (R), Chris Coons (D), is known as the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013.  The bill recognizes the value highly skilled foreign workers bring to the U.S. economy and the role they play in maintaining the innovation and creativity that define American companies.  And it acknowledges that while we must make it easier for employers to hire the workers they need today, we must also dedicate the resources to train the skilled workforce we will need tomorrow. 

The Immigration and Innovation Act would improve every step of the high skilled immigration process.  First, it would allow foreign born students at U.S. universities to declare their intent to immigrate and provide greater assurance they can stay in the United States after they receive their degrees.  It would increase the number of temporary H-1B visas available each year, allow spouses of H-1B employees to work in the United States, and provide greater job mobility to H-1B visas holders.  And it would increase the number of employment-based green cards by recapturing visas that were unused in previous years and exempting certain categories of applicants – such as U.S. science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) advance degree holders – from counting against the annual cap. 

The bill would increase fees on the issuance of visas by $1,000 - roughly a 40% increase over what companies currently pay.  But the money that is raised would be targeted by the bill toward state-based STEM education initiatives with the hope of improving the pipeline of American students trained with the skills necessary for today’s high tech economy.  Intel has spent over a billion dollars in the past decade to advance STEM education.  We applaud this measure and will continue to do our part.  

Despite bipartisan interest in tackling immigration reform this year, many obstacles remain.  Large and challenging questions, such as how to deal with the millions of undocumented residents in the United States and whether the current annual level of immigration is sufficient, loom over the debate.    Partisan differences are sure to be exposed and difficult compromises will be necessary.  But the current focus on immigration reform presents the best opportunity we have seen in years to make needed fixes to the employment side of the immigration equation and the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 is an excellent start.