Visa Reforms

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.
In order to ensure enough H-1B slots are available, the bill would:
-Increase the H-1B cap to 115,000 for three years
-After three years, the cap will remain at 115,000 BUT can increase up to 20% each year, if the cap was completely used in the previous year.  The cap for the following year will remain the same, unless it is completely exhausted again. 

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

  • Two thirds of the spaces in the green card lottery (Diversity Visa program) will be set aside for individuals with masters degrees or higher.
  • Alleviate delays in the labor certification process by making the Department of Labor responsible for prevailing wage determinations (not the state workforce agency), give the DOL a 20 day limit to make a prevailing wage determination, decisions about appeals and motions to reopen labor certification cases must be made within 60 days of filing, and create a process to allow employers to make technical corrections to labor certification applications
  • Labor certification requirement will no longer be applicable to those with advanced degrees in math, technology, engineering, or the sciences from American Universities
  • Reinstitution of visa validation for E, H, I, L, O, and P non-immigrant visas, allowing them to renew the visa  through the mail
  • Expedited processing for O and P artist visas
  • Will free many groups from the green card cap, including those with master’s degrees or higher from accredited U.S. universities, medical specialty certification based on U.S. training, a master’s degree or higher in science, technology, engineering or math and have been working in a related field in the US with non-immigrant status for the three year period before applying for an immigrant visa, in Schedule A occupation, National Interest Waiver applicants, and spouses and minor children of those admitted as employment-based immigrants.
  • Numerous provisions to aid those were affected by hurricanes, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and prevent them from losing status or being declared illegal because of circumstances due to hurricanes
  • Permanent authorization of the Conrad 30 J-1 waiver program for medical doctors
  • Broader rules for P visas – open to athletes and coaches part of a team or franchise in the US who are members of foreign leagues or associations of 15 or more amateur sports teams, with certain conditions.  Also theatrical ice skating productions involving professional and amateur performers are in this category.
  • Multiple athletes (P visa) can file under a single petition and pay one fee.

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