Categories Compliance Department of Labor News & Updates USCIS

How This Immigration Bill Impacts Employers

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.

Conclusion

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.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

Categories Compliance News & Updates USCIS

USCIS Issues New I-9

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) publishd a revised version of Form I-9.? The new version requires additional information from foreign national employees, including the email address, telephone number, and foreign passport information.

 

The revised form is effective today.? USCIS is providing a 60-day grace period so that employers can update their internal processes. During the grace period, the current version can still be used. After the 60-day grace period, which ends on May 7, 2013, employers must use the new I-9 or be subject to penalties for not using the correct version.

 

Starting today, the new Form I-9 can be downloaded at: www.uscis.gov.

 

If you have any questions about this new process or its impact, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

Categories Compliance News & Updates

Updates on Plan to Eliminate the I-94 Card

It was announced in 2012 that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would move to eliminate the issuance of I-94 cards to arriving non-immigrants in the near future.? In 2012, I-94 cards were no longer issued to individuals arriving under the Visa Waiver Program.? However, CBP did not announce when or how it would eliminate I-94 cards for other arriving non-immigrants.? This is obviously a significant move for CBP and has ramifications across several branches the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and many state agencies who issue drivers licenses.

Although there is still no publically available timeline for when changes will happen, these are some of the details of CBP?s plan:

  • I-94 cards will at some point in the near future no longer be issued to passengers arriving at air and seaports with Advanced Passenger Information Systems (APIS) in place;
  • I-94 cards will continue to be issued at land border crossings and seaports not equipped with APIS;
  • In place of the I-94 card, individuals will be given a stamp in their passport that will include a handwritten annotation indicating non-immigrant status and the period of authorized stay in the U.S.; and
  • CBP will record admission to the U.S. in an electronic database; there is some question of whether individuals will be given a receipt confirming their information in the database, and CBP has taken this under consideration.

The eventual elimination of the I-94 card will impact employers when it comes to I-9 verification and participation in E-Verify since a valid passport and I-94 card are currently accepted as evidence of valid work authorization.

The attorneys at Graham Adair will continue to monitor and update our clients as these changes go into effect.? We will work with our clients to make this government process change seamless for our clients.

Categories Department of State News & Updates

New Visa Processing System in India Starts Today

Beginning today, the United States Embassy in India will begin using a new visa processing system throughout India that is intended to standardize procedures, as well as simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling through a new website: www.ustraveldocs.com/in.

 

Perhaps the most important change is that under the new processing system, applicants will be required to make two appointments. Before the visa interview, applicants will need to visit an Offsite Facilitation Center (OFC) to submit photographs and biometrics. These OFCs are offsite, so applicants will need to plan accordingly. This is being done with the intention of reducing congestion at consular facilities and enhancing applicant processing timeframes.

 

 

The good news is that most applicants will only need to visit an OFC one time. Because of India’s Interview Waiver Program (IWP), which allows applicants who meet certain criteria to be considered for waivers of personal interviews, an increasing number of applicants will be able to complete all visa requirements without having to schedule an in-person interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

 

 

As part of this new visa processing system, U.S. visa applicants can now pay application fees and schedule appointments with mobile phones. The new system will also allow companies and travel agencies to purchase multiple fee receipts for group travel and emergency appointments.

 

If you have any questions about this?new process?or its impact, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

Categories Department of State News & Updates USCIS Visa Bulletin

July Visa Bulletin: EB-2 Will Retrogress

For the first time in years, all countries will be subject to retrogression under the employment-based second preference category (EB-2). The U.S. Department of State just released the July 2012 Visa Bulletin, which continues to show India and China as ?unavailable? for EB-2.? All other countries are showing an effective date of January 1, 2009, meaning retrogression of roughly two and a half years.

 

Graham Adair will be working with clients who have priority dates retrogressing on July 1 to be sure I-485 applications are filed with USCIS by June 29th.

 

Aside from India and China, we expect priority dates in the EB-2 category to become current again when the new fiscal year starts in October.? Until then, it appears that the Department of State is slowing down the number of eligible cases in order to meet the annual limit of employment-based green card applications.

 

Similar to recent past months, the EB-3 category did not see much movement, only advancing a few weeks in most cases.? The Visa Bulletin for July 2012 can be viewed at: http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5630.html

 

If you have any questions about this bulletin or its impact, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.