Immigration SKIL Bill: Good News for US Businesses?
By James Root
Los Angeles, CA

The “SKIL Bill”, short for “Securing Knowledge Innovation and Leadership Act of 2006”, is targeted at increasing legal immigration of scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematics workers into the United States by increasing the quotas on the H-1B visa, eliminating green card caps for certain advanced degree holders, and streamlining the processing of employment-based green cards.
Here’s a summary of changes in the SKIL bill:
H-1B Visa: The bill increases the annual cap of 65,000 immigrants to 115,000, automatically increasing the cap by 20 percent each year the limit is reached. It also creates a new exemption to the cap for anyone who has an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from a foreign university.
Green Card Caps: Sponsored by their employers, workers who earned advanced degrees from accredited US universities will be exempt from the numerical limit.
Streamlining Green Card Processing: The bill establishes a pre-certification procedure that is designed to eliminate duplicate documentation of the employer that is common to multiple petitions. It also provides employers with an option to expedited processing of such visa petitions.
As of November 2006, the SKIL Bill exists as standalone legislation in both the House and Senate. It is also embedded in the Senate Comprehensive immigration bill.
For the SKIL bill to become law, one of the following two events must occur, along with a signature from the President.
1. The House would have to pass the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Bill,
2. Both the House version and the Senate version would have to be approved by Congress.
Perspectives on the SKIL bill:
Pro Analysis
Proponents of the claim that the most intelligent workers in the world come here to be educated and then end up taking their knowledge and skills with them back to their home countries, support the bill. They claim that there are not enough skilled workers to fulfill requirements and that a severe shortage looms, threatening US leadership in technical fields. Industry claims their gain is access to a larger skilled workforce.

Con Analysis
Opponents claim that industry is primarily motivated by desire for lower wages. They make the point that if there were a shortage of skilled workers, real wages would be up and unemployment would be down, neither of which is the case. Opponents also claim that this bill would cause an unprecedented flooding of the labor market, as skilled Americans and residents would be displaced in their jobs by immigrants from the developing world who are willing to work at below-market wages in return for permanent residence or US citizenship.

A more detailed account of the SKIL Bill sections follows:

Access to High Skilled Foreign Workers
Section 101. H-1B Visa Holders
Exempts professionals who have earned advanced degrees (e.g. Master’s degree or higher) from accredited United States universities and those who have been awarded a medical specialty certification based on post-doctoral training and experience in the United States from the annual H-1B cap.

Section 102. Market-Based Visa Limits
Raises the H-1B (specialty occupation) cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and creates a flexible system that adjusts with the market.

Retaining Foreign Workers Educated in the United States
Section 201. United States Educated Immigrants.
Exempts US-educated professionals with advanced degrees and those who have been awarded a medical specialty certification based on post-doctoral training and experience in the United States from the annual green card (i.e. immigrant visa) cap. Exempts from the green card cap workers of extraordinary ability (e.g. Nobel Prize winners), and outstanding researchers and professors. Exempts professionals who have earned advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math, and who worked in the US for at least three years in a related field, from the immigrant visa cap. Exempts spouse and minor children of professionals from the employment-based cap.

Section 202. Immigrant Visa Backlog Reduction.
Raises the immigrant visa (i.e. green card) cap from 140,000 to 290,000 and allows unused visas to fall forward annually. Retains current green card allocation so that majority of visas (57%) are reserved for highly-educated/skilled workers.

Section 203. Student Visa Reform.
Many employers seek to hire US educated students full-time upon graduation, and this change would enable the employer to start the green card process while the foreign worker is on a student visa (F-1) during Optional Practical Training (OPT). Codifies post-graduate OPT, which will allow US educated foreign students to work in their field for up to two years after graduation.

Section 204. L-1 Visa Holders Subject to Visa Backlog.
Allows an extension of an L-1 (intra-company transfer) visa beyond the fifth or seventh year if the individual has a green card application pending and is simply caught in the green card backlog. This extension is currently allowed for H-1B (specialty occupation) visa holders, but not for L-1 visa holders.

Section 205. Retaining Workers Subject to Green Card Backlog.
Allows foreign workers who have started the green card process, but who are subject to green card backlogs, to pay a $500.00 supplemental fee to file an application to adjust status. This change would enable foreign workers to remain in the US until the green card becomes available.

Business Facilitation Through Immigration Reform
Section 301. Streamlining the Adjudication Process for Established Employers.
Requires the creation of a pre-certification program that streamlines the adjudication process, and reduces paperwork burdens, for employers with a track record of compliance and who file multiple applications.

Section 302. Providing Premium Processing of Employment-Based Visa Petitions.
Requires USCIS to allow employers to file a “premium processing” fee for expedited adjudication of employment-based immigrant petitions, as well as for administrative appeals of any decision on an employment-based immigrant petition.

Section 303. Eliminating Procedural Delays in Labor Certification Process.
Requires the Department of Labor to process all applications filed prior to the electronic PERM system within six months of enactment. Clarifies the Department of Labor’s process in providing prevailing wage determinations and requires the Department of Labor to establish a website to post open job orders.

Miscellaneous
Section 401. Completion of Background and Security Checks.
Requires that no immigration application may be approved until the appropriate background and security checks are completed and any allegations of fraud have been resolved.

Section 402. Visa Revalidation/Renewal.
Allows temporary workers who have not violated their status to renew their visa from within the United States.

Section 403. Severability.
Clarifies that if any part of this act is determined to be invalid it will have no effect on the remainder of the provisions.
(Root Law Group is an exclusive Immigration Law firm that specializes in assisting non United States citizens in obtaining lawful status in the United States. Phone: 1- (888)-Root-Law (766-8529). www.RootLaw.com)



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