Pro-Business Immigration Lobbyists Praise Senate’s Immigration Reform Bill, Caution About Amendment

Pro-business immigration lobbying groups are praising the Senate’s inclusion of key business immigration provisions to their recently passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. Among these provisions are the following:

  • Raising the H-1B visa cap for highly educated temporary workers to 115,000, and inclusion of flexible market-based annual adjustment.

  • Raising the EB visa cap, along with exempting key categories of workers.

  • Exempting both H-1B and EB visa caps for particular workers with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

“A bipartisan Senate has taken a very big step towards resolving a chronic problem facing U.S.employers,” said Sandra Boyd, chair of Compete America, a pro-business immigration bill. “The Senate recognizes that America benefits from the contributions of highly educated foreign nationals.”

Lynn Shotwell, executive director, American Council on International Personnel, also had positive comments about the recently passed bill: “The H-1B and EB visa reform provisions adopted by the Senate are reasonable and long overdue. With the FY 2007 H-1B cap likely to be reached soon, and with backlogs in all employment based categories growing, it is imperative that meaningful reform occur this year.”

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Senate Finally Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

The Senate, in a bipartisan effort, today voted 62 to 36 to pass a compromise version of immigration reform. The Bill contains a range of important provisions and measures, affecting the processes of immigration and enforcement. Key provisions are as follows:

Path to Legal Status for Undocumented Individuals Currently in the U.S.

Undocumented individuals who have been in the U.S. for at least five years before April 5, 2006 are eligible for 6 years of work authorization in the U.S. and are provided with a path to eventual permanent legal status, if they pay a $2,000 fine, meet certain English and Civics requirements. pass requisite background checks and pay all back taxes owed. These individuals would receive a green card after all current family backlogs are cleared and would be able to apply for citizenship after five years under green card status.

Undocumented individuals who have been in the U.S. between two and five years will be considered under Deferred Mandatory Departure Status. These individuals would be provided with work authorization and an eventual path to permanent status if they leave the country within three years, remain in their home country for a short time, then return to the U.S. These individuals could apply for readmission to the U.S. prior to leaving this country. Please note that the Departure requirement will be waived for spouses and children, or in cases of substantial hardship to the person under status or a member of their immediate family.

Family Unity & Family and Employment Visa Backlog Relief

All individuals currently in family backlog status will receive green cards before any of the currently undocumented individuals receive them. A new family preference cap of 480,000 will be created, which would add 260,000 new visas per year to ensure the backlog dissipates.

A new employment-based cap of 450,000 will be created for a 10-year period, which would add 310,000 new visas per year. Visas for spouses and some children of particular employment-based immigrants will be capped at 650,000, while others will remain outside the cap.

Thirty percent of the employment-based cap will be reserved for essential workers and provisions will be put in place for widows and orphans.

High-Skilled Workers Immigration Reforms

Also included are reforms of student visa rules to authorize dual intent, expand the period of OPT and create a direct path of permanent status for particular students with advanced degrees.

The H-1B Visa Cap will be increased to 115,000 with a market-based escalator; exemptions will be provided for individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Exemptions for the annual employment-based cap will also be available for individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, along with aliens of extraordinary ability and outstanding professors and researchers.

Newly Created Temporary Worker Program

A new program will be created for 200,000 temporary essential workers per year. These workers will be provided with a 3 year visa that is renewable for 3 years and is portable so these individuals can work for employer(s) of their choice. Current undocumented individuals who entered the U.S. after January 2004 are eligible for this program, but must leave the U.S. to apply. It should be noted that all employers will be required to seek U.S. workers first and must instill labor protections and introduce wages at fair market value. These individuals will be able to apply for permanent status under the new employment-based cap. They can either petition for status themselves (if they have worked for four years) or their employer can petition for them.

Reforms to Agricultural Worker Program

All farmworkers who can prove that they engaged in at least 150 days of agricultural work in the U.S.during 2005 will be eligible for temporary resident status (Blue Card). Spouses and minor children will also be eligible for this status. For permanent status, these individuals must perform agricultural work for at least 100 work days per year for five years, or perform 150 days per year for three years. These individuals may work outside the field of agriculture, but those work hours will not count toward the required time.

There will be cap of 1.5 million for the earned legalization program.

The H-2A temporary foreign worker program will allow employers involved in the dairy industry to hire workers even when they are year-round workers.

DREAM Act – UndocumentedHigh SchoolStudents

Students who entered the U.S. before they were 16 years old and are present for five years before the date of this provision’s enactment and who have graduated from high school or received a GED can apply for a 6-year conditional status. Within 6 years, if these individuals have graduated from college or completed 2 years in a degree program, or have served in the Armed Forces, this conditional status will become permment; they will receive a green card.

Senate Passes Amendment Making English the National Language of the U.S.

This week, the Senate passed an amendment by a vote of 63 to 34 that English will be the “National Language” of the U.S. and declaring that no person has a right to federal communications or services in any language other than English, with the exception of those already guaranteed by law.

While the measure does not alter any laws currently in place that require certain government documents and services to be provided multilingually, opponents of the measure state that it could go against executive orders, regulations and guidance that were not officially sanctioned by Congress.

But, ultimately, it is quite confusing as to what power this measure will actually have. The support it received was assuredly due to politicians affecting nationalism, an alternate measure was passed immediately after this one that declared English the “common unifying language of the United States[but would not] diminish or expand any existing rights [for multilingual services].”

USCIS ISSUES UPDATED H-1B CAP COUNT

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today issued an updated count of H-1B numbers for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 through May 16, 2006.

With today’s release of updated numbers, USCIS has indicated that as of May 16, it has received 39,445 H-1B cases that have either been approved or were in the adjudications pipeline to count against the 58,200* standard H-1B cap. USCIS has also indicated that it has approved or was adjudicating a total of 5,048 cases against the pool of 20,000 numbers for foreign nationals with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

For reference, USCIS’s most recent prior release of H-1B cap statistics covered the period through through May 12–when USCIS indicated that 34,808 cases had been received. Although USCIS officials have recently reported a slight slowdown in filings, it is anticipated that H-1B numbers will continue to be exhausted rapidly. Indeed, if filings continue at the present rate, the H-1B cap will be reached within the next few weeks, possibly in the early part of June of this year. This would be the earliest date on which the H-1B cap was met. Based on this, G&A is advising employers to plan ahead and file H-1B cases as soon as possible to avoid being shut out by the exhaustion of the cap.

*Please note that the H-1B annual numerical cap is set at 65,000 per fiscal year, but this total is reduced by the 6,800 H-1B1 numbers that are set aside under the U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreements, thereby effectively leaving a total of just 58,200 standard H-1B numbers per fiscal year. USCIS has indicated that it intends to accept up to 61,000 petitions toward the H-1B cap as a means to allow for the possibility of denials and revocations.

Bush Intends to Send National Guard Troops to U.S.-Mexico Border

In an effort to hold onto a conservative Republican base that is becoming less and less supportive of him, President Bush this week, informed the public that he intends to deploy thousands of National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico in order to thwart illegal immigration. In his speech, Bush said he would deploy up to 6,000 National Guard tropps to the 2,000 mile border as part of a nearly 2 billion dollar program to “seal off’ the U.S.’s border with it’s southern neighbor.

“We do not yet have full control of the border and I am determined to change that,” said Bush. “I am calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology on the border.”

USCIS May Share Certain Harmful Information to Beneficiary about Family-Based Sponsor

Earlier this month, the USCIS issued a memo that informs their supervisors that certain information can be released to a beneficiary regarding his or her family-based sponsor. While, in general, this information will not be revealed, there are exceptions to the rule. Information that might affect the health and safety of the beneficiary (e.g.: that the sponsor is on the national sex offender registry) will be shared with the beneficiary.

If the USCIS decides a beneficiary needs to know more about their sponsor, the beneficiary will be called in for an in-person interview at either a district office or a USCIS office overseas. The beneficiary will then be provided with time to rethink whether he or she will want to be sponsored before adjudicating the case.