By Devin Henry
WASHINGTON — A massive immigration reform bill is set to include changes to a high-skilled worker visa program backed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar had introduced legislation in January meant to increase the number of "H-1B visas" available to high skilled immigrants. The legislation was meant to try matching the massive demand for them: The government issued 85,000 such three-year visas earlier this month but received 124,000 applications for them.
Reuters has details on the visa provisions in the immigration bill set to be introduced Tuesday night by a bipartisan group of senators:
The number of available H-1B visas would increase to 110,000 per year, from 65,000 currently, and could increase to 180,000 depending on certain circumstances. Klobuchar’s bill would increase the cap to 115,000, and up to 300,000 depending on demand.
In the bill, there would be 25,000 visas available for workers who hold advanced degrees from American universities, up from 20,000 under current law. Klobuchar’s bill has no cap.
The Senate bill also looks to address concerns from critics who worry American companies hire foreign workers and pay them a lower wage than their American counterparts. According to Reuters:
To address this concern, the Senate's draft legislation calls for employers ‘to pay significantly higher wages for H-1B workers than under current law,’ the outline said.
Businesses would also need to advertise to American workers first any job openings that could be obtained by foreign applicants.
Companies that are found to be abusing the visa program would be hit with penalties.
Negotiators had previously agreed to include a provision in the bill to penalize firms that hire H-1B workers and then outsource them to countries with lower wages. The Washington Post has an overview of other key provisions in the bill.
Klobuchar said she hadn’t reviewed the entire bill but that it sounded “consistent with the work we were doing in trying to up the number of visas.”
“The green card stuff is great, the fact that we’re going to make it easier for students that get degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, that we’re going to make it easier for them to get green cards, that’s very positive,” she said Tuesday. “We’re happy with how this is going.”
Senators are expected to formally introduce their bill Tuesday night. The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken sit, will hold its first hearing on the legislation Friday.