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The Future of H-1B Visas

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on February 09, 2017

Legislators in Washington are considering a number of changes to the H-1B visa program that could significantly alter, and ultimately reduce the number of visas issued in the future. Individuals wishing to immigrate to the United States for work should closely monitor these proposed changes and consult with an immigration attorney in Chicago to determine how these changes could affect their ability to secure a visa for their employment.

Protect & Grow American Jobs Act

Introduced by Representative Darrell Issa, the Protect & Grow American Jobs Act revises the definition of exempt H-1B nonimmigrant by eliminating the requirement for a masters degree. It also raises the threshold for salary requirements from $60,000 to $100,000 per year. This means that in order for employers to secure these visas for their employees, they must be willing to pay the higher salary.

The legislation targets H-1B dependent firms who employ more than 15% of their employees via H-1B visas. Under the current law, these employers must demonstrate that they have been unable to fill these jobs using American labor. Should this legislation become law, it would mean that these firms would have to raise their salaries to meet the $100,000 threshold or they would have to hire more American employees to bring the number of employees on H-1B visas below 15%.

H-1B & L-1 Visa Reform Act

Introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley and Richard Durbin, this legislation is not new and has been introduced several times in the past. The current version of their bill would eliminate the H-1B lottery system and replace it with one that focuses on an employee’s skills and abilities. The legislation would give preferential consideration to those individuals studying in the United States and those who hold advanced degrees at the time of their visa application.

Notably, the bill focuses on STEM professions. It also prohibits employers from laying off American workers in favor of H-1B visa holders. Finally, the legislation would strengthen the position of the Department of Labor and allow the agency to conduct more detailed inspections in an effort to uncover H-1B visa fraud and non-compliant employers.

High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act

Introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren from Silicon Valley, the High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act would give employers an opportunity to receive preferential treatment on their visa applications if they increase the salary caps for their H-1B workers to $130,000 per year. The legislation would also earmark 20% of all new H-1B visas for startups that employ fewer than 50 employees.

Under Lofgren’s bill, the prevailing wage calculation would be altered from a 4-tier formula to a 3-tier formula. This calculation would be based on the mean of the bottom 2/3 of wages, the mean of all wages, and finally, the mean of the top 2/3 of wages. Visas would then be distributed first to employers paying wages at the highest tier, followed by those in the middle, and lastly, to those in the bottom tier.

The Impact on Current & Future H-1B Visa Holders

None of these three proposed pieces of legislation have been voted on or become law. That means that they will have no impact on visa holders at the present time. However, should Congress pass these bills, it is likely that the president would sign them into law. At which time, those holding H-1B visas and their employers would be subject to the provisions and requirements they contain.

While proponents of these bills argue that they would protect American workers from reduced layoffs and lower salaries, the reality is that these bills would place a significant financial burden on employers. This would result in stagnant growth and lead many companies to move or expand their operations overseas.

Changing Visa Status

Workers holding H-1B visas, L-1 visas or other visas that grant them the ability to work in the United States can start the process of becoming legal permanent resident. These bills would not affect the status of those holding green cards. However, this requires the sponsorship of an individual’s current employer, or of a subsequent employer who the employ may transfer their employment.

Potential Employment Based Green Cards

EB-1 Visas – This is reserved for executives, managers, and those with extraordinary achievements.

EB-2 Visas – This is granted to individuals who hold advanced degrees or can demonstrate exceptional abilities within their career field.

EB-3 Visas – Issued to individuals who hold Bachelor’s degrees, or skilled workers who have at least two years of professional work experience. It may also be issued to unskilled laborers who can demonstrate a stable employment history with at least two years working in the United States.

An immigration attorney in Chicago can help H-1B and L-1 visa holders prepare and process their documentation. Because the process and requirements are changing, it is advisable for all immigrants to retain the services of an attorney who can help guide them through the immigration process from start to green card.