Bipartisan bill would provide more work visas

Sen. Klobuchar, D-Minn., is behind the legislation to increase H-1B visas.

Bipartisan bill would provide more work visas

Janice Bitters

 

A bill moving through Congress could allow more international students to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation.

For Mark Schneider, associate director of employment-based visas at the University’s International Student and Scholar Services, that’s a big deal.

“We’ve got over 5,000 international students that graduate with bachelor’s degrees, masters or Ph.D.s, and there’s not enough [work visas] out there for them to work in the country,” he said.

The bipartisan Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and three others, would increase the number of H-1B work visas in the U.S. from 85,000 to 115,000, specifically targeting workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The H-1B visa program is a common way for highly skilled foreign nationals to work in the U.S. The program allows an employer to temporarily hire a foreign worker in the U.S. who meets the requirements for a specialized field.

Each year the government takes applications for the visa on a first-come, first-serve basis starting in April. In the past 10 years, demand for the H-1B has consistently exceeded the number available. Many expect 2013 will be the same.

“It opens up on April, 1 and it’s going to be a week, two days or possibly one day that all 85,000 will be applied for,” Schneider said.

The proposed bill would not only increase the number of available visas, it would allow the number to grow or decrease gradually throughout the year based on the number of applications received.

Educational employers are not subject to the limit. Universities can continue to hire workers with H-1B visas even after the national limit has been met.

Currently, the University has about 400 H-1B employees —most of whom are researchers and faculty, Schneider said.

Many critics of the H-1B visa bill are concerned the program takes jobs away from U.S. citizens, lowers industry wages and promotes outsourcing in computer and engineering fields.

The bill also addresses the issue of dual-intent — the desire to go to school and afterward become a U.S. citizen — for foreign students.

Currently, students may be blocked from getting a student visa if they express interest in citizenship after graduation, Schneider said.

The bill would allow students from other countries to get a student visa and announce intent to eventually get a green card for the U.S. at the same time.

Klobuchar said international students should be allowed a legal path to citizenship, “otherwise we are simply training our competition.”

Yumi Kumagai, a University research assistant in the Department of Entomology, works on an H-1B. She said expanding visa and citizenship opportunities for international workers may help U.S. businesses compete globally.

“It helps to have employees who understand a lot about these countries. These employees act as a bridge to the countries,” she said.

When an employer hires an international employee with an H-1B visa, they first petition the government for a visa and generally pay between $2,500 and $5,000 in filing and application fees, Schneider said.

The Immigration Innovation Act would increase the amount companies must pay to hire H-1B employees by $1,000, Klobuchar said. This money — approximately $3 million or more in additional revenue — would go directly to educating U.S. citizens in STEM fields.

“We want to make sure … we also are training our own students in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”