Amendments to a recently passed bill will expand immigration opportunities for foreign-born scientists and engineers. If retained during negotiations with the Senate, the measures in the bill could become the most significant on legal immigration to pass Congress in more than 30 years.

The US Administration recently unveiled a legislative package called the America COMPETES Act of 2022, the full response to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which was passed in June. The legislation would establish innovation initiatives and set funding targets that, if met, would add billions of dollars to the current annual budgets of selected research agencies.

Some core initiatives of the COMPETES Act include establishing a new National Science Foundation directorate and a program to seed regional innovation hubs across the country. In addition, both would directly appropriate $52 billion for semiconductor production and R&D initiatives, and provisions on trade policy and foreign relations. It also proposes initiatives that would support climate change mitigation efforts abroad and remove caps on green cards for doctoral graduates in STEM fields.

Exempting individuals with Ph.D.’s in STEM fields from annual green card limits would relieve many from long wait times for permanent residence and (indirectly) reduce the decades-long waits for other highly skilled immigrants. The provision would allow U.S. employers to gain a significant competitive edge by offering the chance at permanent residence to outstanding researchers from around the world, including those early in their careers and engaging in cutting-edge work.

An amendment at the Rules Committee added “health professions and related programs” to the STEM fields for which Ph.D.’s are eligible under the bill to be exempt from the annual limit on employment-based green cards. The bill already covered physicians with a medical residency.

Another amendment would add South Korea as a country from which the United States can accept, on a reciprocal basis, specialty occupation professionals in a new E-4 status. The annual limit is 15,000, though the experience with Australia is far fewer visas likely would be used each year. The bill also includes immigration and human rights measures for Uyghurs and residents of Hong Kong.

The House Science Committee assembled the core innovation provisions in the COMPETES Act last year. The committee embedded its new initiatives within policy updates for three agencies: NSF, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The COMPETES Act also focuses on addressing “societal challenges” that include but are not limited to work on strategic technologies. The new entity created is referred to as the Science and Engineering Solutions Directorate. The Science Committee’s legislation also focuses more on building up NSF as a whole and includes thorough direction for existing programs, addressing areas such as STEM education and broadening participation in STEM fields among underrepresented groups.

Are you or a loved one affected by the new visa expansions or job opportunities this bill could create? Call us today for a consultation.

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