The Senate bill contains a number of provisions that will significantly benefit those wishing to come to the US on a visa. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 will make changes to the following visa categories:
The H-2C visa will be a new visa category and will be available to anyone, either in legal status in the US or outside the US. Aliens who wish to temporarily work in the US and the services or labor they will perform are not covered by H-1B, H-1C, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, and L, O, P, or R visas will be able to apply for the H-2C visa. Applicants must have no intention of abandoning their country of residence and must undergo a specific procedure, along with their employer, to obtain and H-2C visa. These visas will be available for a period of three years and may be renewed only once for another three years.
The H-1B visa is currently a very hot issue as the annual limit of 65,000 visas issued for the H-1B category has been exhausted months before the start of each new fiscal year, in recent years. Therefore, there has been a great desire to increase the H-1B cap, because of the positive impact that foreign workers have on the US economy and the difficulty employers currently have in hiring them due to the long waiting period. The foreign workers hired under the H-1B visa provide businesses in the US with critical specialized skills or expertise that cannot normally be found in the United States, fill shortages of workers in specific fields due to economic shifts, and give businesses expertise on the overseas economy and global market. All of this provides a great boon to the US economy and the people living in the United States. If the H-1B visa cap is not increased, then many of these skilled professionals will not come to work in the United States and instead go to a different country, thus hurting the US economy.
For example, if the cap in 2011 is 115,000 and it is completely used, then in 2012 that cap will be 138,000. The cap in 2013 will also be 138,000, unless it was completely exhausted in 2012, in which case it will be 165,600.
Furthermore, the bill has provisions to broaden the cap exemptions to include all non-profit institutions, exempt all advanced degree holders from US universities (i.e. no 20,000 limit), create a 20,000 cap exemption for graduates of institutions of higher education from foreign countries, and exemptions for physicians with medical specialty certification.
S Visa Limit Increase
The S Visa is available to anyone who provides information on a criminal enterprise carried out by a foreign government, its agents, representatives, or officials and information on the development of weapons of mass destruction by foreign governments. Currently the S Visa limit is 200, but this could increase to 1000, if this bill becomes a law.
Family-based and Employment-based Visa Increases
Another visa reform provision included in this bill focuses on family-based and employment-based visas. Currently, there exists a waiting period to get certain types of family-based or employment-based visas for people from certain countries, due to the backlog. Therefore, people are issued priority dates (the date the USCIS receives their petition) and the State Department issues a Visa Bulletin monthly with the cut off dates for each category of family-based or employment-based visas. One cannot receive his/her visa until the cutoff date passes the priority date. Due to this, some aliens must wait a very long time before they can receive a visa to come to the US.
If signed, this bill would aim to reduce the backlog by increasing the number of visas available and recapturing unused visa numbers. Specifically, employment based green cards will be raised from 140,000 to 250,000 for FY 2007 through FY 2016. After FY 2016, the total number of green cards available for employment based immigration will be set at 290,000. The new allocation for employment based visas will be 15% for EB-1, 15% for EB-2, 35% for EB-3, 5% for investors – re-designated as EB-4, and 30% for new EB-5 for other workers. If this bill is passed, 30% of the employment-based visas will be reserved for unskilled workers in the US before January 4, 2004.
This bill also contains provisions for family based immigration. First, visas that are for spouses and children will not be counted against the numerical limits. Second, 10% of the visas will be allocated for F-1 (unmarried sons and daughters of citizens), 50% for F-2 spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents, 10% for married sons and daughters of US citizens, and 30% for brothers and sisters of citizens. The immediate relative category will include children of spouse and parents of US citizens, allowing them to get legal status and travel to the US.
Foreign Students (F and J visas)
Foreign students studying in US can be very important to the US economy, especially if they are pursuing a degree in math, engineering, technology, or the sciences. If they remain in the US after receiving their degrees, they can enter the US workforce, providing the US with skilled workers with degrees that the US workforce is otherwise lacking. The bill proposes many things that will help increase the number of people coming to the US on F and J visas.
Significant changes will be made to the F-1 Student visa. The Optional Practical Training (OPT) that F-1 visa holders may participate in will be increased from 12 months to 24 months. For students wishing to pursue an advanced degree in math, engineering, technology, or the physical sciences, a new F-4 student visa will be created. The F-4 visa would allow the alien to remain in the US for one year after completion of his/her studies, if he/she is seeking employment in the US and may be extended further, until the alien has completed the labor certification process and employment based green card process, if started within a year of completion of the graduate program. Furthermore, an F-4 student may be able to file for adjustment of status if a I-140 petition is filed, the degree program is completed, and a processing fee of $2000 is paid.
F-1 and F-4 students would also be able to accept employment off-campus and outside the student’s area of study, provided that the student is enrolled and in good standing and the employer fulfills certain requirements.
An F-5 visa category will be created for students who fulfill the F-1 requirements but are participating in a distance learning program and reside in their country of nationality. These students would be able to visit the U.S. temporarily, for a period that does not exceed 30 days.
The J visa will also see some changes under the new bill. A new J-STEM visa will be available to those who are pursuing an advanced degree in the sciences, technology, engineering, or math. Those with a J-STEM visa will not be subject to the two year foreign residency requirement.
Both the J-STEM and F-4 visa holders will be able to file adjustment applications even if no visa numbers are available, provided a $500 supplemental fee is paid. Furthermore, students in these two categories can obtain Employment Authorization Documents and Advance Parole of a period of three years, as opposed to a one year period.
“Blue Card” visa and H-2A visa for Agricultural Workers
The Senate bill includes provisions for agricultural workers to apply for a temporary visa or blue card. There will be up to 1,500,000 blue cards available in the five year period from the enactment of the bill. Eventually they will be able to apply for permanent residency if they fulfill certain criteria and the green card caps would not apply to them.
The H-2A visa program would be revised by eliminating the labor certification process and utilizing the labor condition application. Also, there would be the ability to make house allowance available instead of providing housing and workers must be given transportation allowance.
Other Visa Reform Provisions
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