On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 which includes the extension of four immigration programs until September 30, 2016. These programs are the EB-5 regional center program for immigrant investors, the Conrad 30 program for J-1 physician visa holders, the special immigrant visa for religious workers, and E-verify.
The bill also includes changes in the L-1 and H-1B fees paid by employers with more than 50 employees where 50% or more of the employees have H-1B or L-1 status.
The EB-5 regional center program grants green cards to foreign nationals who invest in any of the regional centers in the U.S. Unlike the regular EB-5 program which requires the investor to create 10 full-time jobs in two years, a regional center investor can use the more relaxed requirement of indirect job creation.
Another main difference is the amount of capital to be invested. Under the standard program the investment must be $1,000,000 unless it is made in a targeted employment area, which means that the place is a rural or high unemployment area. On the other hand, $500,000 is usually sufficient for investment in regional centers because most of them are already in targeted employment areas.
As many as 3,000 visas can be granted regional center investors annually. With a faster processing time and ongoing efforts to speed up the process in order to promote the program’s job-creation benefits, the EB-5 visa is one of the fastest routes to a U.S. green card.
Another program extended by the law is the employment-based 4th preference category visa for non-minister religious workers. This visa grants special immigrant status to individuals who are in a religious vocation or occupation but are not religious ministers.
The applicant must have been a member of a religious denomination with a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the U.S. and he must have also been working in a religious vocation or occupation. A religious vocation or occupation excludes positions that are primarily administrative in nature.
There are 5,000 visas reserved for this category which includes accompanying and following-to-join spouses and children.
The Conrad 30 program allows state health departments and agencies to recommend the waiver of the 2-year foreign residence requirement for up to 30 foreign medical graduates per year in J-1 status who agree to serve in medically underserved areas. This waiver allows them to change their status to H-1B or adjust to permanent residence and meet the demand for healthcare in areas where doctors are in short supply. Those who obtain the waiver are not subject to the annual H-1B cap.
The E-Verify system is an Internet-based program that allows a participating employer to electronically confirm the employment eligibility of a newly-hired employee using the databases of the USCIS and the Social Security Administration.