There have been so many developments related to US immigration law in recent times, that it's hard – even for keen observers - to keep up with the latest twists and turns. But fear not! This article will provide a brief overview of what has been happening, what is next on the US immigration reform agenda, and what today's session will debate.
What key US immigration reform events have taken place?
On 16 April 2013, the 'Gang of Eight', a bi-partisan group of Senators working on US immigration reform, introduced the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744)", better known as the Immigration Reform Bill, explained in more detail in this article. The deadline for filing amendments to the Bill was last Tuesday, 7 May 2013, at 5 p.m. Senators rushed to meet this deadline and more than 300 amendments were filed prior to the deadline. The Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) has already begun the mark-up process, having passed certain amendments dealing with border security on Thursday 9 May. The SJC has announced that it will also meet today, 14 May, and again on Thursday, 16 May, to continue the mark-up process.
What will the Senate Judiciary Committee discuss today?
SJC Chairman Senator Leahy announced last week that today's discussion will focus on Title IV of the Immigration Reform Bill. Title IV deals with proposed reforms to non-immigrant (temporary) visas to the USA. Stretching over 186 pages, the proposals address the H-1B (Specialty Occupation), L-1 (Intra-Company Transferee), and other non-immigrant visas. Given the heavy focus of the bill on employment-based non-immigrant visas, the eyes of the business community and professionals aspiring to work in the USA will be squarely focused on the SJC debate.
What changes are proposed to non-immigrant visas?
The Immigration Reform Bill proposes a plethora of amendments to US non-immigrant visas, too many to enumerate here, including:
- Almost doubling the number of H-1B (Specialty Occupation) visas from the current 65,000 to a minimum of 110,000. If certain conditions are met, this number would be raised to 180,000. This is great news for US businesses and foreign professionals alike as the currently allocated number of H-1B visas is woefully inadequate to meet market demands. This year, all H-1B visas were exhausted in a matter of days and, worse, a lottery had to be held to determine which of the numerously filed petitions would receive consideration on the merits. Businesses from around the USA, including Microsoft and Facebook, have spoken loud and clear that increasing the number of H-1B visas would have a beneficial impact on businesses and the US economy.
- Granting spouses of H-1B visa holders the right to temporarily work in the USA. Studies have shown that an inability to work in a foreign country is detrimental to a person's morale and can lead to social isolation. Allowing H-1B spouses the right to work would be a positive step in this regard.
- The first 25,000 H-1B petitions filed for the benefit of STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) graduates with a Master's or higher degree obtained from a US university will be cap-exempt for H-1B purposes. If it passes, the proposal would replace the current provision which exempts from the H-1B cap the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed for the benefit of individuals with a Master's or higher degree (in any field) where the US job requires such higher degree.
- Placing stricter requirements on H-1B employers to prevent fraud and better protect US workers, and giving the Department of Labor enhanced powers to review applications and audit employers.
- Placing similar stricter requirements on the sponsorship of L (Intra-Company Transferee) applicants, particularly stressing the prohibition on off-site work done by the L visa holder unless specified conditions are met. This proposal is prompted by concern over potential misuse associated with the L visa.
- Imposing additional restrictions on the hiring of L-1B (Specialised Knowledge Employees) visa applicants.
- Permitting foreign students studying for a Bachelor's or higher degree to be obtained at an American University to have 'dual intent'. This means that a student applicant would no longer be denied a visa because of insufficient ties to his or her home country or Embassy's impression that the person would not leave the USA at the end of his or her studies.
- Creating a new "Retiree" category permitting those over the age of 55 to live in the USA provided they purchase a residence for at least $500,000 and do not work in the US.
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