Today the Senate took the historic step of passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Senate bill S. 744. This is a significant step on the path to the bill becoming law. It is important to note that nothing has changed with this action. While we are much closer, we are still quite a ways from any legal change. The House must act. The House is more conservative than the Senate.
S. 744 does many things. Many of the specifics will change as the House takes action. Therefore it is much too early for employers to plan for CIR.
What the House will do is a wide-open question. The House will likely move slowly. There are many factions of Republicans who are struggling to reconcile their disparate opinions. If the Republicans can agree on the House side, then a House CIR bill could pass.
Even if that happens, there is no guarantee that the senate and House bills can be reconciled. At this point the odds are 50/50 that we get CIR in 2013, and the odds improved significantly with today’s Senate vote.
MU Law has been to Washington on several occasions in the last 90 days to speak with Congressional staff about employment-based immigration issues. While no one knows what the final CIR bill will look like, but if CIR passes it will have these characteristics:
Greater H-1B visa numbers. Current law allows 65,000 new “regular” H-1B visa approvals every fiscal ear and an additional 20,000 for graduates of American Master’s degree programs. American businesses have regularly asked Congress to raise this H-1B quota. Congress is hearing the call. Most potential legislation calls for increased H-1B numbers.
Increased H-1B Enforcement. The trade-off for the greater H-1B numbers is greater enforcement regulation. All versions of CIR step up funding for H-1B enforcement.
Special Third Party Placement Rules for H-1B Employers. Since January 2012, USCIS has held staffing companies to a higher level of scrutiny. Congress is now going further. Placing employees at third-party worksites is outright prohibited for some employers and highly regulated in others.
Abundant Green Card Numbers. By increasing green card numbers, Congress hopes to incentivize employers and workers to become permanent residents. . This should mean faster green cards and less worrying about quotas.
E-Verify is here to stay. E-verify is a federal program whereby voluntary employers can check a prospective employee’s work authorization. Government contractors and some states have made E-verify mandatory. Congress appears ready to require E-verify for all employers, likely phasing it in over a few years.
Shifting from Family Based Visa Numbers to Merit Based Immigrants. One part of the CIR plan is that Congress appears to have settled on a merit-based green card. A merit-based system would allow the Department of Homeland Security to weigh a number of factors, such as education, job prospects, US ties, and English fluency to prioritize an applicant’s visa. The merit based system will come at the expense of the family categories and will eliminate the visa lottery program.