It's back. The SKIL bill -- which was introduced into the U.S. Senate last year and focused on raising the H-1B visa cap and reforming green-card limits -- has been reintroduced into the Senate and House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Az.) introduced in the House the "Securing Knowledge Innovation and Leadership," or SKIL bill. The legislation is identical to a bill that was reintroduced last week into the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also introduced that bill last year during the last Congressional session.
The bill features similar proposals that have been part of larger comprehensive immigration reform packages. However, unlike those other bills that also addresses border security and lower-skill worker issues, the SKIL bill zeroes in on making changes to H-1B and green card caps. H-1B visas are the most common visa used by employers to bring foreign technology workers into the U.S. for stints lasting up to six years.
Among the SKIL bill's proposals are raising the annual H-1B cap from 65,000 today to 115,000, with the ability to automatically increase the cap in subsequent years by 20 percent, or up to 180,000. The bill also proposes to apply the current 20,000 cap exemption to those with a master's degree or higher from an institution of higher education in a foreign country, not just for those foreigners who have advanced degrees from U.S. schools.
The bill also looks to create a new visa category -- the F-1 -- for foreign students looking to pursue a bachelor's or advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from a U.S. school.
As for changes to "employment-based visas," or green cards, the bill proposes to raise the limit from 140,000 to 290,000 per year.
"I do not underestimate Congress' willingness to flood the U.S. market with labor, regardless of available Americans who need the jobs, [and] to drive down wages," said Kim Berry, president of IT professional advocacy group, the Programmers Guild in an e-mail interview with InformationWeek.
Berry says he's opposed to any legislation that proposes raising the visa cap rather than reforming current rules regarding H-1B hiring.
In fact, earlier this month, a bi-partisan bill introduced into the Senate by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill) aims to reform the rules involved with H-1B hiring, including requiring all employers to "pledge" that they've made a "good faith" effort to fill those jobs with American workers. That's something that's now only required of companies with 15 percent of more of their employees on H-1B.
The bill also gives the Department of Labor more authority to investigate abuses.
"I find it unconscionable that every Congressman is not yet on board with the basic protections in the Durbin/Grassley bill, and why those protections are no amended into any bill that would raise the H-1b cap," said Berry.
In addition to the reintroduction of the SKIL bill, another new bill, "The High Tech Worker Relief Act," sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was also introduced this month into the Senate; with similar proposes to increase the H-1B cap.
Earlier this month, U.S. government after only two days stopped accepting H-1B visa petitions for fiscal 2008 after receiving 133,000 petitions for the 65,000 visas that will be issued. That's the fastest the H-1B visa application period has ever closed.