January 21, 2015

Early Immigration Action in New Congress

The 114th Congress recently took office, and there has already been action on the immigration front. The House voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) but to block President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration. A pro-business immigration bill was reintroduced in the Senate.

DHS Funding

In late November 2014, President Obama announced that he was taking several executive actions to address needed reforms in the immigration system, as reported in our legal update, “President’s Immigration Executive Action Will Impact Employers.” Among the most controversial actions were programs to offer temporary lawful status to millions of people residing in the United States illegally.

At the end of the 113th Congress in December 2014, Congress passed a large omnibus bill to fund nearly all of the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year through September 2015. But funding for DHS was authorized only through February 2015. The plan was to allow the new 114th Congress, in which both houses would be controlled by Republicans, to have an opportunity to challenge the President’s executive actions.

On January 14, 2015, the House of Representatives passed a bill to fund DHS through September 2015. But amendments to the bill specifically block the use of any funds to implement the recent executive actions and other administration actions from the past few years.

The House DHS funding bill will now be considered in the Senate. Prospects in the Senate are not clear. Some GOP senators have indicated that they do not want to put broader DHS funding at risk as part of a fight on the executive actions. Even if the Senate were to pass the House bill with the provisions blocking the executive actions, the President could veto the bill. Congress could not likely override such a veto. Congress is scheduled to recess starting February 16. With the clock ticking on DHS funding and the prospect of a DHS shutdown looming, this issue will be a top focus for Congress and the President during the coming weeks.

Business Immigration Bill

A business immigration-friendly bill has been reintroduced in the Senate. The “Immigration Innovation Act of 2015” (I Squared) was introduced by a bipartisan coalition of Senators led by GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch. The I Squared bill would make several beneficial changes to business immigration:

  • Increase the current 65,000 H-1B cap to 115,000, with a formula to automatically raise the cap over time if demand is high
  • Exempt graduates from U.S. advanced degree programs from the H-1B cap
  • Allow H-4 spouses of H-1B workers to work
  • Reinstate the visa revalidation program allowing foreign nationals to apply for visa renewals inside the U.S.
  • Increase the number of available employment-based green cards each year by no longer counting family members against the annual quota
  • Recapture unused green cards from prior years
  • Exempt persons graduating with U.S. advanced degrees in STEM fields from the green card quotas
  • Eliminate the per country green card limits that cause extra delays for persons from India and China

The I Squared bill would be very beneficial for business-related immigration, but prospects for passage are uncertain. The bill was first introduced by the 113th Congress in January 2013 and did not make any progress.

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