A bill to create a new visa program for temporary foreign workers has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Flake. Known as the Willing Workers and Willing Employees Act of 2016, the bill would create a 10-year guest worker pilot program.
The new visa would be called H-2C and it will allow employers to hire foreign workers with less than a bachelor’s degree to perform nonagricultural work in the US.
At present, there are several nonimmigrant visas available to temporary workers such as the H-1B visa for professionals and other highly skilled workers, the H-2A visa for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers and the H-2B visa for temporary or seasonal nonagricultural workers. But they do not address the need for year-round workers with less than a bachelor’s degree.
Foreign nurses and other health care workers will be eligible to apply for the H-2C visa. Registered nurses are generally not eligible to file for H-1B visa because nursing is not considered a specialty occupation under the H-1B program. A bachelor’s degree is not required to become a registered nurse.
The H-2C visa would be available only in counties or metropolitan statistical areas where the unemployment rate is 4.9 percent or less.
Employers will be registered with the Department of Homeland Security and they will have to attest that they had actively recruited workers but were unable to find a qualified US worker and that they have no labor dispute or layoffs.
There will be a flexible cap of 65,000 in the first year and 45,000 to 85,000 in the subsequent years depending on the economic demand. At least a quarter of the number of registered positions initially allocated for each 6 month-period shall be reserved for small business employers.
The H-2C visa would be granted initially for up to three years but could be renewed within the ten-year pilot period. The employees could be employed at any worksite and the employers could employ them at any worksite provided such location was advertised.
The law will require the Director of the Bureau of Census and other government agencies to conduct a study on the impacts of the H-2C program on home ownership rates, housing prices, access to quality health care, criminal justice system and employment and wage rates. Within three years from the enactment of the law, they will report to Congress on the findings of their study.
Senator Jeff Flake said that “this kind of flexible, market-based visa program designed to better meet economic demand is exactly the approach we need to bring US immigration policy into the 21st century”.
Several groups have applauded the introduction of this bill. The American Health Care Association said that it will help ease the nursing shortage by “making it easier for foreign nurses and other health care workers to get jobs at skilled nursing centers.”