By Murali Bashyam
1. On Legal Immigration
Many employment and family-based categories have had severe visa availability backlogs for quite some time. In fact, in certain situations, permanent residency applications can easily take well over a decade. The Senate Bill (s.744) addresses this issue by exempting derivative family-members, and some physicians and PhD holders, from the annual-limits for employment-based immigration. The legislation would also allocate additional visa numbers to those foreign students who graduate with advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These provisions will help clear the backlog and make employment-based permanent residency a faster process for intending immigrants.
The legislation will also have a significant impact on family-based immigration. Right now, there are visa availability backlogs for Lawful Permanent Residents who want to sponsor their spouse for residency in the US. Residency processing came sometimes take many years. On the other hand, spouses of US citizens are classified as ‘immediate relatives’ and are not subject to these visa backlogs. This bill would redefine ‘immediate relatives’ to include children and spouses of permanent residents, thus removing them from these numerical limitations and residency processing will be much faster, as it should be.
2. On the H-1B Visa
Some of the provisions in the Senate legislation related to the H-1B professional worker category are good and others are bad. On the positive side, the bill increases the regular H-1B cap from 65,000 to 110,000. In addition, it would allow the Department of Homeland Security to increase the H-1B cap up to 180,000 depending on demand. The legislation would also increase the Master’s cap from 20,000 to 25,000.
Another very favorable provision is allowing H-1B workers 60 days to transition between jobs. Our currently law does not allow any transition time, which is unrealistic in our job market. The bill will also allow certain spouses of H-1B visa holders to obtain work authorization, which again is an improvement over current laws.
Unfortunately, the bill also places some unnecessary burdens on employers who use the H-1B program. For example, all employers would be required to test the US labor market before filing an H-1B application. Under current law, only certain H-1B dependent employers (those whose workforce consists of a large number of H-1B workers) must test the labor market first. In addition, the bill places severe penalties on H-1B dependent employers. For example, employers with 50 or more employees would have to pay an additional fine of $5000 per sponsored worker if more than 30 percent of their workforce consists of H-1B workers. This fine increases to $10,000 if their workforce consists of more than 50 percent of H-1B workers. The bill also places an upper limit on how many H-1B workers a company can ultimately hire. We believe that some of these provisions should be changed to make the H-1B program more ‘market-based’ instead of heavily regulated as is proposed by the current legislation.
We recently did a Webinar on the Senate Immigration Bill. To view our powerpoint presentation, click HERE.