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Sweeping immigration reform is a huge priority of American politicians currently in power. I have traced the process of this reform thru its
different stages in the last three months here, here and here. This post is an update for April 2013 and is a deep dive into the Senate’s proposal which is expected to form a sizeable portion of any final law that is passed.

On any other week, the parameters and boundaries of sweeping immigration reform that were announced last week would have taken center-stage. Instead, the events in Boston and Texas overshadowed fairly momentous announcements from U.S Senate. The entire 844 page immigration proposal is up here “136436529-Gang-of-Eight-Immigration-Proposal” for your perusal. While the primary focus of the proposal is to resolve the status of nearly 11 billion undocumented immigrants, it contains clear specifics on the future of the H-1B visa program. The portions regarding H-1B visa holders and F-1 visa holders start on page 658 of the attached document.

Here below are five key takeaways from the proposal –

a) This is not the final bill – While this proposal will be widely discussed as though it is the final immigration bill of 2013, it is not that. This is a proposal made by eight senators (four from each party) who have taken on the responsibility to influence enough members of both parties, public opinion, corporate America and labor workforces towards radical changes in the current immigration system. The Senate is the more powerful legislative body in the U.S Congress and typically a harder place to get a working majority in for most issues. So a bipartisan proposal such as this will tend to be at the very core of a final bill and then law. But it is important to remember that it is not the final bill and ensuing law. So any numbers seen here can change before they are put to vote and other frameworks in place may very well change by the time there is an immigration law in 2013 or 2014. So everything listed in this proposal is not FINAL.

H-1B cap dates graph

b) An increase in H-1B quota – What we know definitively is that the senators want a significant increase to the existing quotas of H-1B visas available. The proposal calls for an immediate increase from 65,000 to 1,10,000 for fiscal year 2015 and a future increase to 1,80,000 visas. But that’s not all :). There are 25,000 other H-1B visas available to immigrants who have earned a master’s degree or above in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). So unlike the last decade when an F-1 visa holder’s career in the U.S lay in doubt because of the shortage of H-1B visas, the next decade promises an easier and more deterministic path to working for a science or technology entity in the US.

Need to say, all of this is great news for immigrants and Indian families thinking of sending children over to the U.S for the pursuit of a Master’s degree.

c) No information yet on if any changes to the Green card process – Mitt Romney wanted to staple a green card to Master’s graduates in science and Math. Barack Obama wanted to make it easier for these immigrants to stay in the US forever. But very surprisingly the proposal glosses over the extremely convoluted H-1B to permanent residency transition. There are no details on this topic and it is shocking that there may not be any changes to the messy and non-deterministic process currently in play.

On the surface this makes sense. Technology corporations and politicians want to ensure that smart people can immigrate to the U.S and work in science, technology, engineering and Math. They are not particularly cognizant of or do not care about the status of these people once they can work legally. As in, it does not matter to the technology companies if you were working for them on an H-1B visa for seven years or on a green card for three of those.

Hence it is very possible that minimal lobbying has been done on this issue thus allowing the senators to skip over this completely.


d) It is more expensive for employers to hire H-1B now I had mentioned in all of my earlier pieces on this topic that everything will be more expensive for immigrants and employers of immigrants. This has certainly come true in the proposal made by the senators. Like it or not, an immigrant employee is the most exciting source of revenue for any politician because how non-controversial this is.

An H-1B hire could cost a company between $5000 and $20,000 depending on the company’s size, percentage of existing H-1B employees and fiscal year. So if you are applying for a job with a Silicon valley startup, it is likely that they will pay you less than what you may have made prior to the law because of how much more the company will have to pay to the government to get your visa done.

There are also strict caps and wage controls to ensure a company does not have more than 50% of its employees as H-1B holders by 2016 and that non-immigrant wages are not affected by an influx of foreign talent.

e) Visas for startups and investors Finally, there is a new and interesting category of visas (still unnamed) that is available to those who have money to start-up companies in the US and create jobs. The text about this visa looks maddeningly vague and ripe for being taken advantage of by fly-by-night consulting companies. It is basically a way to get more money into the U.S economy but I am not so sure this will end up producing the desired outcomes. I can see a scenario where this visa is abused to hire and staff a fleet of part-time Information Technology (IT) workers.

This proposal will now be discussed and debated in both the public sphere and the House of representatives. The House will likely bring up a similar proposal in the next 60 days after which the proposals will be merged and mashed in to something that can pass both chambers of a divided Congress and be signed into law by President Obama in late 2013. It is possible that there will be hiccups, challenges and opposition to the final passage of this reform but odds are much higher for this proposal to be the gateway to immigration law than they are for similar reforms in gun control or the fiscal crisis. And that is still very good news for all.

Please follow me on twitter at @shyamuw or subscribe to this blog (subscribe button on the right side of this page below my tweets) for timely posts on the impact of immigration reform 2013 on those who hold H-1B and F-1 visas in the US today.

3 Responses to “The Senate immigration bill & its impact on H-1B and F-1 visa holders”

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