AILA South Chapter Conference Comprehensive Immigration Reform Discussion

Recently, Attorneys Sheel Bedi and Ophelia Enamorado, from Zhang & Associates, P.C., attended the annual conference of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA is the predominant association of immigration lawyers in the U.S. Consequently, AILA is well attuned to the recent developments in immigration reform, and they have taken an active role in shaping the national dialogue. Attorneys Bedi and Enamarado are both AILA members, as are many of the attorneys at Zhang & Associates, P.C. In order to maintain its professional excellence, Zhang and Attorneys routinely sends attorneys to these conferences.

As employment and corporate related immigration constitute the lion’s share of our practice, we are particularly interested in whatever changes comprehensive immigration reform may bring to this area, and in that regard, the conference was pretty illuminating. Among the key features of the immigration reform package:

  • Abolition of the Diversity Lottery.
  • Increases in the numbers of H-1B visas issued. Particularly, it creates a floor of 110,000 and a ceiling of 180,000 for the H-1B cap. 110,000 would be the numerical limit for the first fiscal year after enactment of the bill and could increase by no more than 10,000 each subsequent year.
  • Eliminates the two-year foreign residency requirement for the spouse and children of the J-1 exchange visitor.
  • Introduction of a merit-based visa system, which takes into account both employment and family related factors. Specifically, immigrants will receive points that depend on certain criteria, including level of education, employment experience, full-time employment or offer of employment in the field related to the immigrant’s education, whether the employment or offer of employment is in a high-demand occupation, significant amount of community service, knowledge of the English language, Family of USC, age, and country of origin. These visas will fluctuate between 120,000 and 250,000 visas per year depending on the state of the economy. For the first five years post enactment, this visa category will be used to help clear the employment backlogs.
  • Introduction of a new “W” nonimmigrant visa. The W visa is a nonimmigrant visa for temporary workers who will perform services or labor for a registered nonagricultural employer in a registered position. The spouse and children of W visa holders will be permitted to join and will be given a work authorization for the same period given to the W visa holder.
  • Introduction of a startup visa (EB-6) for qualified entrepreneurs, which is capped at 10,000 visas per year. Qualified entrepreneurs are defined as aliens:
    • With a significant ownership in a U.S. business;
    • Who is employed as a senior executive in the business; and
    • Who had significant role in the founding or early-stage growth of the enterprise

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is still at a very early stage of the political process. Although this is not a perfect bill, the politics are generally favorable, and some form of bill will probably pass, but there is no guarantee. Moreover, nobody knows when a bill would come into effect, or what provisions a final bill will contain. Therefore, at this point in time, there is no point in delaying immigration decisions.

These are exciting developments. This framework for reform is one step closer to much needed change in immigration law and will benefit many immigrants seeking permanent residency in the United States.

Mainly, however, the conference validated our firm’s own preparations for the upcoming law. Already, our firm has prepared an overview of the Senate’s immigration reform bill, combined with several in-depth articles on which focus on particular provisions the Senate’s reform package.

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