The highly publicized bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in the Senate has pushed forward to draft an immigration reform bill that many believe will make it through Congress and result in comprehensive immigration reform. Many of the bill’s provisions impact U.S. employers.
H-1B Visa Reform
Currently, there is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas allotted every year. This year, the H-1B cap was exceeded during the first five days of the filing period and resulted in a lottery to select which petitions USCIS will accept. Recognizing the need for more visas, this bill proposes to increase the minimum number of H-1B visas to 110,000, with an allowed increase of 10,000 every year depending on demand from the previous year. The maximum allowable number is 180,000 H-1B visas.
Additionally, the number of exemptions for those with advanced U.S. degrees increases from 20,000 to 25,000. However, the bill limits the exemption to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) occupations.
The bill provides a 60-day grace period for H-1B workers who separate from their sponsoring employer. During this time, they can either depart the United States or find a new employer to sponsor their H-1B. A timely filed petition during the 60-day grace period would keep the H-1B worker in valid status while the case is pending.
The bill would allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. if their home country allows reciprocal employment in similar situations.
However, with some benefits come some costs. As H-1B visas increase, the bill compensates by requiring employers to pay higher wages to H-1B workers based on a new 3-tier wage system to be developed by the Department of Labor. Also, before employers can hire an H-1B applicant, they are required to advertise the position to U.S. workers. Under the bill, the Department of Labor would establish a centralized website where all employers must post H-1B positions for 30 days before hiring an H-1B applicant.
Changes to the Green Card Process
Under this bill, the demand on the limited number of immigrant visas would be greatly alleviated. Cases filed under the EB-1 category would no longer be counted toward the annual limit, nor would cases for those holding doctorate degrees. Cases for dependent spouses and children would also not be counted.
Moreover, the bill establishes a “merit-based points” system that would replace the current Diversity Visa Program. Under Tier 1, beneficiaries can acquire points for factors such as education, length of employment, type of employment, family members in the U.S., and length of residence in the U.S. For the first four fiscal years after the bill’s enactment, merit-based visas will be allocated for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers, who provide non-seasonal and unskilled labor. For the Tier 2 track, employment-based immigrant visas are provided to those with cases pending more than 5 years.
An Increase in Government Oversight
Heightened security is a main focus of this bill. For this reason, the bill envisions 100% employer participation in E-verify by year five of the bill’s enactment.
It is anticipated that the Department of Labor would be more involved in employer enforcement as well. This bill removes the “reasonable cause” requirement and allows the DOL to investigate employers for any reason. The DOL would also conduct annual compliance audits of all employers with over 100 employees if more than 15 percent of them are H-1B workers.
Further, this bill increases fines on employers violating terms of the Labor Condition Application. For mistakes on an LCA, fines would increase from $1,000 to $2,000. For willful LCA violations, fines would increase from $5,000 to $10,000.
The “Gang of 8” bill is currently undergoing mark-up procedures in the Senate. At the same time, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives in seeking to draft its own immigration reform bill. These bills will then proceed to a vote.
Graham Adair continues to monitor developments on comprehensive immigration reform. We will provide updates as they become available.
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