Today, a group of four senators from both major parties introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, which if passed would boost the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) visas available to foreigners — an immigration reform that tech companies in the US have been lobbying for in recent years. The bill would also direct fees obtained from the program to fund STEM-related educational programs in the US. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) proposed the bill, and both Republicans and Democrats spoke of the need for highly skilled immigrants. The bill would increase the number of H-1B visas and green cards available to skilled candidates, and would establish a floating cap that adjusts the number of available visas based on the performance of the economy.
"The severe backlog of green card applications has forced many to look elsewhere to start their businesses."
Visa reform for skilled workers has been one of the most vocal demands of tech companies from startups to established players like Google and Microsoft. In statements issued today, both Google and Microsoft praised the Immigration Innovation Act. Google writes that "the severe backlog of green card applications has forced many foreign-born, US-educated entrepreneurs to look elsewhere to start their businesses," and that "we strongly support the bipartisan efforts being made to reform our high skilled immigration laws." Microsoft applauded the bill, writing that it "addresses the country's immigration and education needs in a thoughtful and impactful manner." Both Google and Microsoft have lobbied for immigration reform bills in recent years. Some, like Steve Jobs, have personally asked President Obama for tech-friendly immigration reform.
There's no guarantee that the bill will make it through Congress, even with the current focus on immigration reform on Capitol Hill. Several reform bills seeking to boost STEM and other types of immigration have failed in the past year; Republicans have sought to introduce smaller bills to address specific issues, while the White House has expressed a preference to address reform in a broader legislative package. (The White House opposed the STEM Jobs Act of 2012, claiming that it wanted a comprehensive reform bill.) But even if the Immigration Innovation Act proposed today fails, reform that takes STEM jobs into account appears to have support from both parties. The Senate's "bipartisan framework," released Monday, says that its immigration proposal "will award a green card to immigrants who have received a PhD or master's degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university." This echoes a plan from The White House, which today reiterated its support for a measure that would "staple" green cards to advanced STEM diplomas.