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Senate Bill Would Clear Employment Visa Backlog

Seeking to attract highly-skilled and highly educated professionals and workers to the United States, the Senate immigration reform bill proposes a number of significant employment-based immigration reforms.

The bill would clear the huge employment-based visa backlog by exempting several groups of immigrants from the annual quota of 140,000, recapturing visa numbers that were authorized from 1992 to 2003 but were never used, eliminating the per country limit, and creating a merit-based category.

Among the groups that would be exempted are the foreign nationals of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers and multinational executives and managers who are under the current first preference category with an annual allocation of 40,000.

Also, exempted would be those with doctorate degrees in any field; those with U.S. advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) earned in the 5 years before filing an immigrant visa petition and have a job offer in a related field; and physicians who have completed their 2 year foreign residency requirement or who have received a J-1 waiver.

Spouses and children of employment-based applicants would not also be subject to the annual numerical limit. These derivative beneficiaries used up more than half of the annual quota in the past so that their noninclusion would free up about 80,000 visas yearly.

The yearly quota would be allocated under the bills as follows: 40% to advanced degree professionals and persons of exceptional ability, 40% to skilled workers, professionals and other workers, 10% to certain special immigrants, and 10% to immigrant investors.

The thousands of recaptured visa numbers that were never used due to bureaucratic and processing delays would be added in fiscal year 2015.

120,000 yearly would also be available during the first 4 years under the new merit-based program of the bill. Immigrant visas will be granted under this program to those who can demonstrate that they have the needed number of points from their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other factors.

As for temporary visas, the H-1B cap would be raised from 65,000 to 110,000 per year and the cap may be adjusted each year up to 10% with a ceiling of 180,000. The advance degree cap exemption will be raised to 25,000 but would be limited to STEM graduates. More stringent rules will apply such as nondisplacement attestations, additional recruitment steps and higher fees for H-1B dependent employers.

For lower-skilled workers, a new nonimmigrant work visa would be created. The W-1 visa will be available to foreign workers who work for a registered employer and will be valid for 3 years with extensions in 3-year increments. 20,000 W-1 visas will be allocated in the first year and this would increase to 75,000 in the fourth year. Further increases would be determined by a market-based formula but the cap would not exceed 200,000.

W-2 and W-3 nonimmigrant visa categories would also be created to replace the current H-2A visa for agricultural workers.

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