While Congress is bogged down debating far-reaching and controversial immigration reform, a new bill proposing to raise the ceiling on the number of H-1B visas issued annually to technology and related professionals was introduced into the Senate on Tuesday.
The new "Securing Knowledge, Innovation and Leadership" legislation, dubbed the Skil Bill, has many of the same provisions proposed in other legislation being debated by Congress, including immigration reform bills introduced earlier this year by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Penn.).
But unlike those other bills that are part of more comprehensive immigration reform packages, the Skil Bill, introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) is more narrowly focused on issues related to raising the annual H-1B visa cap and streamlining processes related to so-called EB green cards, or permanent residency.
"This new bill helps set free the H-1B issues from the other immigration reform issues that might have less chance of moving forward," says a spokesman from Compete America, a lobby group that represents about 200 businesses, universities, and trade associations and supports the new legislation.
Among the recommendations of the Skil Bill is an exemption from the annual H-1B cap for any professional who has earned a post-graduate degree from an accredited U.S. university.
Currently, the annual cap on H-1B visas is 65,000. The bill proposes to raise the ceiling to 115,000, with options to increase the cap annually by 20% based on the needs of employers. The United States received the maximum number of allowable petitions for H-1B visas in fiscal 2006 six weeks before the fiscal year even began.
The Cornyn bill also proposes allowing employers to pay a premium fee to expedite the processing of an immigrant petition and provides for a "precertification system" to streamline the processing of certain nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions.
The Skil Bill was co-sponsored by Senators George Allen (R-Va.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), and Trent Lott (R-Miss.).