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Work Visa Amendments Marked Up in the Senate

On Tuesday, May 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee completed another round of markups to Title IV of the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, S. 744. Besides additional enforcement provisions, the Senate tackled amendments to the proposed immigration law, particularly the various nonimmigrant work visa categories. The following is a short summary, the details of which can be found here with individual amendment text here. A number of Senator Hatch’s proposed amendments to the H and L visa programs are scheduled for hearing on Thursday of this week. Many of the GOP members’ amendments deal with protecting US workers and making the legal immigration system fund border and interior enforcement activities or fund improvements to education in the STEM fields. However, the key takeaway is that the amendments that were approved were approved by and large with bi-partisan support. The Senate webcast of the debate can be found here.

The work visa amendments that passed May 14 include:

1. Schumer #1: Technical corrections related to employment and family backlogs; Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to set wage levels for the new guestworker W visa category instead of the Department of Labor (DOL), the usual overseer of wage levels. Imposes the new J-1 $500 fee on summer programs only; W visa fee to fund research.

2. Whitehouse #6: DOL to create a toll-free number and website for people who feel they have been kicked out of their jobs by a foreign worker, with the program to be reviewed by the Attorney General within a year.

3. Grassley #58: Requires the new H-1B internet job posting ads to have more specifics. Yes, you read that correctly – overall, S. 744 would require H-1B petitioning employers to advertise for US workers BEFORE sponsoring them. The parameters of that are still being negotiated. (However, in this Seattle immigration lawyer’s opinion, the ad requirement, new fees and high wage requirements will most likely cause the demise of this visa category for new and small businesses at least.)

4. Hatch #9: Increases a newly proposed fee to $1000 for permanent labor certifications (PERM). Until now, there has been no fee for PERM applications (despite their time consuming nature for applicants and the government). This amendment would also direct some H-1B fees for STEM education and scholarships.

5. Schumer #3: Adds certain nationals of countries associated with the African Growth
and Opportunity Act and Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act as eligible for E-6 (treaty) visas. Like the Irish version of E-6, this visa category would only require a high school education or two years of work experience in the field for jobs requiring the same.

6. Klobuchar #3: Here is an interesting idea: This amendment requires a pilot program for video conference consular interviews for nonimmigrant tourist visa appicants.

7. Hirono #2: Permits nonimigrant alien crewmen (C-1/D visas) to land in Hawaii temporarily.

8. Schumer #4: Provides new J-1 visas for those coming to work or teach requiring language skills from countries designated by the State Department that provide less than 5000 immigrants a year.

9. Grassley #77: A newly created J-1 program database would be shared with CBP.

10. Klobuchar #1: This interesting provision would grant continued status or adjustment of status to battered derivatives (spouses and minor unmarried children under 21) of principal nonimmigrants including proposed new “blue card” holders.

These work-related amendments failed:

1. Sessions #1: Limits on work authorization for nonimmigrants.

2. Grassley #67: Would require at least 1% of H and L visa petitions be audited in addition to audits of heavy users of these visas.

3. Cruz #5: Would raise the H-1B cap to 325,000, would allow all H-4 spouses to work, and would and allow for dual intent for F-1 students pursuing higher education.

4. Grassley #60: Would have required good faith efforts to recruit by all US employers petitioning for H-1B employees.

5. Grassley #68: Would delay start date for F-1 dual intent (in the original bill, applying only to bachelors degree and above seeking students) until the J-1/F-1 Student and Exchange Visitor (data sharing) System is deployed.

6.Grassley #56: Would prohibit visa revalidations and require in-person interviews at consulates even for applicants who are low risk violators. (See #6 above).