In February 2022, the House passed the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science (COMPETES) Act, a legislative package that invests in research, innovation and American manufacturing. The Senate had passed a similar bill, the US Innovation & Competition Act (USICA), in June 2021.
Beginning in May 2022, the Conference Committee on bipartisan innovation and competition legislation has been working to reconcile the COMPETES Act and USICA. While both bills seek to accelerate US production of critical semiconductor chips and strengthen the domestic supply chain, the COMPETES Act alone features immigration reform provisions:
- A new W visa category for entrepreneurs.
- A direct path to permanent residence for immigrants who earn a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) PhD degree in the US
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and refugee status for qualifying Hong Kong residents.
- A Priority 2 (P-2) program for certain persecuted Uyghurs.
- The Adoptee Citizenship Act, which would provide US citizenship to individuals born outside the US but adopted as children by American parents.
New W Startup Visa
The America COMPETES Act would establish a new, nonimmigrant W visa status for foreign entrepreneurs. Applicants would be required to hold at least a 10 percent ownership interest in the startup and play a central and active role in managing the company. The startup owner must also receive at least $ 250,000 in investments from US citizens or organizations or at least ,000 100,000 in government awards or grants. The visa is for startup owners, their essential employees and their dependent spouses and children.
W visas would be issued in three-year increments with the possibility of extension based on the startup’s growth, and visa-holders could apply for legal permanent residence after one year, if they meet conditions around funding, revenue, job creation and ongoing ownership stake. . Specifically, the company must receive $ 1.25 million in qualifying investments or qualifying government grants or awards or generate at least million 1 million in annual revenue in the prior two years. Then, the company must have created at least 10 qualified jobs.
The Department of Homeland Security estimated that 2,940 entrepreneurs would be eligible for the W visa annually. A New American Economy study estimated that, over the course of ten years, these entrepreneurs could create 429,000 jobs and generate 18 billion for the gross domestic product.
Faster Pathway to Permanent Residence for STEM PhDs
The bill would also provide an alternative to per-country, green card limits for foreign, STEM PhD and certain master’s degree holders. These graduates would circumvent the green card backlog that the per-country caps have created and obtain permanent residence in the US much faster.
The provision could benefit an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 STEM doctorates who apply for permanent residence in the US annually. In the 2019-20 academic year, international students made up 42 percent of all STEM PhD students at US universities, according to data from the Department of Education. Currently, the wait for a green card for STEM PhDs with job offers in the US can be five to ten years.
This exemption would benefit applicants who might not yet qualify for the first-preference EB-1 visa but who are still engaging in valuable research that contributes to America’s status as a global leader in science.
TPS & Asylum Status for Hong Kong Residents
Another provision would grant Temporary Protected Status to Hong Kong residents currently in the US, protecting them from deportation and providing them work authorization for 18 months. Certain Hong Kong residents facing persecution from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are eligible for refugee and asylum status, without counting toward the annual refugee or immigration ceilings.
Hong Kong residents would also have preferential immigration status and be considered separately from Chinese applicants. Finally, the bill would create a Special Immigration Status for up to 5,000 Hong Kong college graduates to emigrate to the US for five years following the bill’s passage.
Protecting Uyghur Human Rights
The bill would give certain persecuted Uyghurs a P-2 designation, granting them access to the US Refugee Admissions Program, again without counting toward the annual refugee ceiling. Furthermore, the America COMPETES Act requires the US to prioritize diplomatic efforts with countries hosting Uyghur refugees who face pressure from the CCP to return Uyghurs to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
Adoptee Citizenship Act
The final immigration-related provision is the Adoptee Citizenship Act, which provides US citizenship to individuals born abroad but adopted as children by American parents. This provision addresses a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which did not apply to foreign-born adoptees over 18 when the law went into effect. The bill would protect around 35,000 adoptees who were legally adopted but remained subject to deportation.
Conference Negotiation Progress
The 107-member Conference Committee began reconciling the Senate’s USICA and the House’s America COMPETES Act on May 12, 2022. Although the COMPETES Act passed the House in a partisan vote of 222 to 210, the immigration provisions could potentially garner support from some Senate Republicans. .
Several Democrats support the bill’s provisions to increase visa availability, but Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) insisted a separate immigration policy legislation consider such provisions.
While Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) remains open to the House-passed immigration provisions, he warned against adding provisions that would frustrate the bill’s passage. Other Republicans voiced receptiveness to the immigration proposals.
“If there’s broad support for the provisions, then I’m absolutely open to including it,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), who sponsored the Senate USICA bill. “More broadly in terms of skills-based immigration reform, I think it’s essential to maintain our national competitiveness.”
“I don’t know what the exact proposal would be and what that would actually look like,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). “But for me, we want to encourage the best and the brightest from all over the world to be able to come here legally and to be able to go through the legal process.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) recognized that, “when it comes to anything associated with STEM, we’ve got to get better at it because we’ve got 11 million jobs out there but six million unemployed.”
“I think merit-based immigration is an appropriate response to what we see happening right now,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). “Obviously, if they’ve got an advanced degree in a STEM program, that would meet some needs we have. But I’d like to look at the legislation more.”
Despite these expressions of support, it is very uncertain if the immigration provisions will survive the conference negotiations.
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