Rand Paul’s tangled approach to H-1B visas

The Kentucky senator, who announced a presidential run today, has several ideas for boosting high-skilled immigration

Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) formally announces his candidacy for president in Louisville, Ky.

Credit: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

As president, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will support increasing the H-1B visa cap. Although Paul keeps specifics about his plans for high-skilled immigration nuanced and vague, the final outcome would be little different from Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) plan to raise the H-1B cap by 500%.

Paul, who today became the second person to announce his candidacy for president, joins Cruz as now officially in the race for the Republican nomination.

One of Paul's proposals is to create "economic freedom zones" in distressed areas. Businesses and workers in these zone would get personal and corporate income rates set at a flat rate of 5% a year, and payroll taxes limited to 2% a year.

Zone-based businesses would also be eligible to hire workers under an "economic freedom zone visa" -0- a new visa program category. The standards for this visa would be very similar to the H-1B visa, with workers required to have earned at least a bachelor's degree, according to Paul.

"One of the primary reasons businesses may not be inclined to locate in the areas deemed eligible for the Economic Freedom Zone status is the lack of a local, skilled workforce to fill job openings," Paul said in a statement outlining his proposal.

Paul's plan could conceivably turn his economic freedom zones into preferred locations for IT services firms if the zone-designated visa is not subject to a cap.

In terms of the H-1B visa cap overall, Paul two years ago proposed creating a "bipartisan panel" to determine the number of visas per year, but also said "high tech visas would also be expanded and have a priority."

Paul may be calling for more H-1B visas, but he did not support the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform effort that included an H-1B visa increase, and he is not listed as a co-sponsor on the I-Squared bill, the current effort to raise the cap. Cruz isn't a co-sponsor either.

Sen. Maro Rubio (R-Fla.), who may be next to announce a run for president, is backing I-Squared, which increases the base H-1B visa cap of 65,000 to 195,000 and eliminates the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. Cruz has proposed raising the base cap to 325,000.

Paul's pitch for a bipartisan panel to help determine a visa cap has been kicked around in policy papers for years.

The Migration Policy Institute, which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan think tank, pitched the creation of an independent bipartisan body staffed by economists, demographers and other social scientists to provide "evidence-based, and impartial analysis" recommendations on employment-based visas.

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