In his State of the Union, President Barack Obama may have given a green light to increasing H-1B visas and employment-based Green Cards.
Obama's point was direct. "Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense."
Hiking the H-1B cap has been a longtime bipartisan issue. One of the most recent efforts was by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arz.) who in 2008 proposed a market-based formula for increasing the cap that would have set an initial ceiling at 130,000, as well as remove any cap for foreign graduate students at U.S. universities. The bill made little progress.
Most H-1B bills have been blocked by a large coalition of lawmakers who want skills-based immigration reform only as part of a comprehensive immigration package. But Republican control of the House may break this roadblock.
But what type of H-1B reform will emerge? The tech industry wants unfettered access to employment visas with no restrictions. Labor groups and other opponents will want, at the minimum, reforms to restrict the use of the visa by the offshore industry and rules to protect U.S. workers from displacement.
Any House bill will also face Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who want to limit the number of H-1B or L-1 visas to 50% of a company's U.S. workforce, the so-called 50/50 rule.
But in his speech last night, Obama clearly made H-1B and Green Card access to graduates of U.S. universities is a priority and part of his competitiveness theme. He will have little trouble assembling bipartisan support for an H-1B reform bill.