Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

US bill proposes flexibility to H-1B workers to switch jobs

If passed by the Congress and signed into law, it would reform and streamline the H-1B high-skilled worker visa programme

Washington: Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives which gives flexibility to H-1B workers to switch jobs and reduces the green card backlog by expanding education-based exemptions from per-country caps for H-1B holders.

Krishnamoorthi was joined by Republican lawmaker Mike Coffman in introducing H R 6794, the ‘Immigration Innovation Act of 2018’ in the House of Representatives on Thursday. If passed by the Congress and signed into law by the president, the two lawmakers said it would reform and streamline the H-1B high-skilled worker visa programme while increasing investment in American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for students in K-12, post-secondary, or college programmes.

“To develop the skills of our domestic workforce, our bill increases investments in our education system to guarantee that American workers are trained for high-tech jobs. It also reforms the visa system for highly skilled workers which allows American businesses to compete in the global economy," said Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat Congressman.

“Our immigration policies must fit with the economic needs of our country," Coffman said. “One critical part of Congress’ job is ensuring that immigration laws match our country’s high-tech workforce requirements as well as meet the needs of H1-B visa applicants and their families."

The bill also proposes to ban employers from hiring H-1B holders to replace American workers while increasing funding for STEM education at the K-12, post-secondary, and university levels.

The bill proposes fees collected for H-1B visas and conditional green cards will go to state-administered funds to promote domestic STEM education and worker training, including financial aid and research initiatives. These expanded investments in advanced training for the domestic workforce would ultimately reduce demand for foreign workers while helping the American economy grow, the two lawmakers said.

The bill, among other things, removes the existing annual 20,000 exemption cap on H-1B visas for holders of US master’s degrees or higher for individuals who are sponsored for a green card and narrows the education-based cap exemption to those with US PhDs. It creates lottery prioritisation for cap-subject petitions in the order of: US masters or higher, foreign PhDs, and US STEM bachelor’s degrees, and establishes a grace period to allow H-1B visa holders to change jobs without losing their legal status.

The bill subjects employers who have more than five H-1B employees to a penalty for each employee who worked less than 25% of the first work-authorisation year and prohibits employers from hiring an H-1B visa worker to replace a US worker.

It also provides work authorisation for spouses and dependent children of H-1B visa workers at the prevailing wage.

The bill proposes to eliminate the country limits for employment-based green cards and adjusts country caps for family-based green cards. It also enables reassignment of unused visas from previous years.

Close