Immigration Reform Bill Would Ease Backlog of Employment Visas

Earlier this month, the bipartisan “Group of Eight” – Senate Republicans John McCain, Jeff Flake, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham, and Democrats Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez, and Michael Bennet – introduced their long-awaited immigration reform bill. From Jennifer Roeper of law firm Fowler White Boggs:

“The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 … proposes some significant changes to the immigrant visa categories.… In order to alleviate the enormous backlogs that have plagued the U.S. immigration system for so long, the bill would exempt certain employment-based immigrants from the annual numerical limits and create a new ‘Merit Based’ category.”

Key provisions for employers in the 844-page draft legislation:

1. More H-1B visas made available:

“In an effort promote market-based limits, the annual H-1B cap would be raised from 65,000 to 110,000, and would be adjustable upwards to as high as 180,000 per year if employer requests for H-1B workers rises. The 20,000 additional H-1B slots currently available for U.S. Master’s degree graduates would be increased to 25,000, but would be limited to U.S. Master’s graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields only.” (Lane Powell)

2. Two new “merit-based” visas will let more employees into the country:

“’Merit-based points track one’ will set aside 120,000 immigrant or permanent resident visas annually (with a possible increase up to 250,000) for individuals who can demonstrate that they have sufficient points to qualify. Points will be awarded for factors such as education, achievement, employment, family in the United States, and length of residence. Half of the points-based visas will be for high-skilled workers and half will be for lesser-skilled workers. ‘Merit-based track two’ will be a system for allocation of immigrant visas to clear out the backlog of long-pending employment-based and family-based cases filed prior to enactment.” (Morgan Lewis)

3. New employment-related visas created for low-income and farm workers:

“The bill proposes a new nonimmigrant, temporary worker category, a W visa for workers to perform services or labor… Agricultural workers would be eligible for a new type of legal status work authorization card: a blue card. Ag workers would not be tied to a single employer.” (Lane Powell)

4. Country quotas eliminated:

“S. 744 proposes to eliminate the per country quota limits on employment-based immigrant (green card) visas. This provision will benefit nationals of India and China who are disproportionately affected by these limits due to the large number of immigrants who come to the United States from these two countries.” (Morgan Lewis)

5. E-Verify required for all employers:

“In a sign of things to come, the proposed legislation would require all employers to verify the legal status of workers using E-verify, an Internet-based, electronic data verification system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration. At present, E-verify is voluntary for most employers. According to the proposed legislation, E-verify would eventually replace the current system of collecting employee information on Form I-9.” (Carlton Fields)

The updates:

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