Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar today introduced an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill to boost science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The bipartisan amendment, which Klobuchar introduced along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chris Coons (D-DE), includes a provision similar to Klobuchar’s Immigration Innovation Act, or I Squared, to fund STEM education by increasing visa fees. Other provisions of Klobuchar’s legislation to promote high-tech innovation were previously included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“If America is going to be a country that makes things again, that invents things, that exports to the world, we need to ensure we have a workforce that can meet the demands of our high-tech economy,” Klobuchar said.“This amendment help ensure students have the skills they need to get the jobs of tomorrow that our businesses are creating today.”
Klobuchar’s amendment would raise the fee on employment-based green cards by $1000 to help fund STEM education grants to states across the country. It also makes recommendations to promote gender equality and train veterans in STEM related fields.
The comprehensive immigration legislation already includes provisions similar to those authored by Klobuchar that would reform the employment-based green card and H-1B visa systems. The proposal expands the employment-based green card system in a similar manner as Klobuchar’s Immigration Innovation Act by exempting spouses and children of employment-based green card holders, outstanding professors and researchers, and immigrants with extraordinary ability from the annual green card cap. The bill also increases the cap on the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 110,000 annually, with the ability for the cap to rise to 180,000 depending on the needs of the economy, and increases the separate pool of H-1B visas for U.S. advanced degree holders from 20,000 to 25,000. The Gang of 8 bill also includes Klobuchar’s provision to remove the requirement that foreign students prove they have no intention to stay permanently in the U.S. before they are allowed to enter the country, and establishes a 60-day transition period for H-1B visa holders to change employers, which is an important worker protection included in Klobuchar’s legislation. Klobuchar also pushed for additional worker protections included in the Gang of 8 proposal, such as a significant increase in required wages for H-1B workers, limits on the number of H-1B workers any one company can hire, increased auditing, and increased fees on companies hiring a large number of H-1B workers. Additionally, the legislation includes Klobuchar’s provision to provide employment authorization to the spouses of H-1B workers.
The Gang of 8 legislation also includes a Klobuchar-authored provision to allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. longer than their visas initially allowed under the condition that they practice in underserved areas such as rural communities. Currently doctors from other countries training in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country after their residency has ended for two years before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the U.S without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The “30” refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.
The provision makes the Conrad 30 program permanent, ending the Congressional requirement to extend the legislation. It also allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met, while still protecting small states. Additionally, the provision allows the spouses of doctors to work, and provides worker protections to prevent the doctors from being mistreated.