H-1B Visas and More in Democrats' Sweeping Immigration Proposal

Ann All

Even many foes of the H-1B visa (the rational ones, anyway) support the idea of clearing a path to permanent residency for talented graduates of U.S. universities. In a nutshell, that means making it easier for these folks to obtain green cards. In a post from last spring, I used an excerpt from my interview with Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a well-known opponent of the H-1B program. When I asked him about green cards, Hira said:


You've got people who are very smart and they want to stay here, but there are interminable waits of six, eight, 10 years. That's unacceptable. I am actually in favor of increasing the green card quotas and having a more rational program.


Streamlining the green card process is just one aspect of a 600-page proposal to overhaul the U.S. immigration system introduced by Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) earlier this month. Much like a piece of sweeping immigration legislation from 2007, that failed despite backing from then-President George Bush, Ortiz's proposal attempts to tackle the issues affecting both the degreed professionals seeking high-skill jobs in the U.S. and the largely uneducated folks that come to the U.S. to fill low-paying service jobs.


Republicans voted against the 2007 bill en masse, coming out strongly against the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Though similar provisions are included in Ortiz's Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, perhaps politicians angling for re-election will be more willing to support them in an effort to appeal to Hispanics, many of whom voted for both George Bush and Barack Obama.


Drawn from a summary of the legislation, here are some tidbits related to visas and other issues related to temporary employment of skilled foreigners. My commentary appears in parentheses.:

  • Expands requirements for recruiting American workers before hiring foreign nationals, increases authority for Department of Labor to investigate potential fraud and abuse, authorizes annual audits of employers who rely heavily on H-1B program and increases penalties for violations. (The Department of Homeland Security has already stepped up its efforts to crack down on fraud in the H-1B program, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress earlier this year.)
  • Authorizes DHS to audit L-1 visa participants. Penalties will be assessed for violations of the provisions of the L-1 visa program.
  • Creates stricter requirements for recruitment of American workers, and prohibits employers who have conducted a mass lay-off in the past year from participating in the H-2B visa program, and increases protections for workers.
  • Requires written notice of terms of employment to ensure that foreign recruiters do not mislead prospective employees. Requires employers to identify recruiters working on their behalf to Secretary of Labor, to give notice of possible violations, and to be liable for recruitment violations. (In theory, this should cut down on fraudulent uses of visas, like those seen in this indictment of IT services company Vision Systems Group.)


The bill also supports creation of an independent federal Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets that is tasked with developing employment-based immigration policies for the promotion of economic growth, competitiveness, and wage and labor protections. The commission would also analyze and publish employment-related immigration data, and make recommendations to Congress for setting new levels of employment-based migration. (More accurate and transparent employment-related data would be great, as it's been hard to come by in the past.)


Here's some information related to green cards and other visas leading toward permanent residency:

  • Permits the "recapture" of unused employment-based visas and family-sponsored visas from fiscal years 1992-2008 and allows future unused visa numbers to roll over to next fiscal year.
  • Exempts immediate relatives from the annual cap on the number of immigrant visas, and increases the number of visas which may be issued per country per year.
  • Permits qualified workers eligible for an employment-based petition to receive work authorization until a visa becomes available.
  • Exempts from skilled worker numerical cap U.S.-educated foreign nationals who receive science, technology, engineering and math degrees and other critical workforce graduates.


The bill also expands the EB-5 visa program, which is designed to promote foreign investment in the U.S., boosting the annual number of available visas to 10,000 and creating a new venture capitalist visa. Cleveland is among the American cities that have been pushing for expansion of the EB-5 program.

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