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Explained: The America COMPETES Act, and how it could increase opportunities for Indians in the US

The United States House of Representatives has unveiled the ambitious America COMPETES Act of 2022. What is it about, and why has it been brought? What would the signing of this bill into law mean for Indians?

Written by Shubhajit Roy , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 26, 2022 11:00:35 pm
US President Joe Biden (AP Photo/File)

The United States House of Representatives on Tuesday unveiled the ambitious America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022, or the America COMPETES Act of 2022, which proposes to open up new vistas for talented individuals from across the world with a new start-up visa.

What is the COMPETES Act of 2022 about?

President Joe Biden, who supports the legislation, said the America Competes Act, 2022 is an important step forward in advancing legislation that will make supply chains stronger and reinvigorate the innovation engine of the country’s economy to outcompete China and the rest of the world for decades to come.

The bill provides $52 billion to encourage more semiconductor production in the US, and $45 billion for grants and loans to improve supply chain resilience and manufacturing, among other programmes.

It also includes funding to address social and economic inequality, climate change, and immigration.

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For instance, it provides an exemption for STEM PhDs from the green card cap, and creates a new green card for entrepreneurs.

The bill also authorises $600 million a year to construct manufacturing facilities to make the US less reliant on solar components made in Xinjiang, China.

What are some of the specific provisions in the Act?

The Act amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to create a new classification of “W” non-immigrants for entrepreneurs with an ownership interest in a start-up entity, essential employees of a start-up entity, and their spouses and children.

According to the provisions released by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the bill when signed into law, will direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish procedures for foreign nationals with an ownership interest in a start-up entity to self-petition for lawful permanent resident status as an immigrant entrepreneur if the entity demonstrates a proven track record of success through job creation and significant revenue generation or receipt of investment capital.

It also directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish procedures for foreign nationals with an ownership interest in a start-up entity to self-petition for classification as a W-1 non-immigrant, and to receive extensions of such classification for up to eight years if the entity meets certain growth benchmarks.

It also provides for a limited number of W-2 visas for personnel who are essential to the growth and success of the start-up entity if the start-up serves as the basis for the W-1 status of a founder.

The bill exempts from the numerical limits on immigrant visas certain foreign nationals (and the spouses and children of such aliens) who have earned a doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from a qualified US research institution or a foreign institution if the degree is the equivalent to a doctoral degree issued by a qualified US research institution.

The bill provides the Secretary of Homeland Security discretion to classify an individual as a W-1 non-immigrant for a three-year period initially if the individual possesses an ownership interest of not less than 10 per cent in a start-up entity, if the foreign individual will play a central and active role in the management or operations of the start-up entity, or if the applicant possesses the knowledge, skills, or experience to substantially assist the start-up with the growth and success of the business.

During the 18-month period preceding the filing of the petition, the start-up entity needs to have received at least USD 250,000 in qualifying investments from one or more qualified investors, or at least USD 100,000 in qualifying government awards or grants, the bill notes.

Why has this bill been brought?

In his statement, President Biden said the proposals laid out by the House and Senate (which passed a broadly similar bill last year) represent the sort of transformational investments in American industrial base and research and development that helped power the US to lead the global economy in the 20th century, and expand opportunities for middle-class families.

“They will help bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and they are squarely focussed on easing the sort of supply chain bottlenecks like semiconductors that have led to higher prices for the middle class,” he said.

What would the signing of this bill into law mean for Indians?

It would mean more opportunities in the US for Indian talent, and for skilled workers.

Every year, the US administration issues 85,000 H-1B work permits — of these, 65,000 are for people with specialty occupations, and the remaining 20,000 are reserved for foreign workers who have earned a masters or higher university degree in the US.

Every year, Indians and Indian companies corner a lion’s share of the H-1B work permits issued that year. With this new category, Indian professionals will likely have a better shot at opportunities that the Act is likely to provide.

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What happens here onward in the legislative process?

Last year, the Senate passed the US Innovation and Competition Act, which includes $52 billion to increase US semiconductor production, and authorizes $190 billion to strengthen US technology and research to compete with China.

The 2,900-page House bill has key differences with the Senate version, Reuters reported. For example, it does not contain the $190 billion for technology and research, but includes $45 billion to support supply chain resilience and manufacturing of critical goods, industrial equipment and manufacturing technology, the Reuters report said.

The House is expected to take up the bill next week. If the bill passes in the House, the leaders of both chambers of Congress will negotiate to resolve differences between the versions, the Reuters report said.

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