In a time honored tradition designed to foster votes in the upcoming election, we are seeing yet another immigration bill offered, this time by Rep. Issa from the San Diego area. The bill primarily changes the rules impacting dependent users of H-1b employers and changes the threshold wage for exemption from $60,000 to $100,000. Just like every other immigration bill being introduced, it has no chance at being passed this year. My problem with the bill is not its content. Frankly, no objective person could argue that the exemption salary floor which has been in place since 1998 is at the correct level. My issue is with yet another immigration proposal that will never be debated, never voted on it, and never has a chance to bring about change.
In a story sure to get the attention of legislators in Washington D.C., and in my humble opinion rightly so, The New York Times ran a story today about H-1b workers being placed at Disney and the U.S. workers they were replacing being required to train them. The story was picked up and ran on the front page of msn.com and many other news outlets. Maybe this will be the impetus for Congress to get serious about immigration reform and craft legislation that recognizes the increased need for H-1b workers and provides for the protection of U.S. workers. No one should be asked to train their cheaper foreign replacement. At a time when the unemployment rate for IT workers is under 2% and we just had over 230,000 H-1b visa petitions filed for only 85,000 spots, this black eye on the H-1b program may be coming to light at the right time to force reform.
On Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a number of measures that will reform our immigration system. While some of these provisions do not relate to employment-based immigration cases, there are several items that will provide clarification and relief for employment-based cases. Many of the specific details about how these changes will be implemented are still being released. However, please fund a summary below.
Adjustment of Status Applications
Individuals who have an approved employment-based immigrant petition and who have been unable to file their adjustment of status due to the quota backlog will be allowed to pre-register to receive adjustment of status benefits when their I-140 is approved but no priority date is available.
Guidance will be released to clarify the meaning of “same or similar” occupation. This is expected to allow broader flexibility to change jobs after the I-485 has been filed.
Guidance is expected to be released to illuminate the meaning of “specialized knowledge.”
Regulations are expected to be released in December or January to allow work authorization to certain H-4 nonimmigrants based upon their spouse’s permanent residence application.
Optional Practical Training:
Regulations will be released to expand the length of time that a STEM graduate may work through OPT authorization. This regulation will also expand the types of degrees that will be eligible for OPT. USCIS is also being directed to implement stronger “ties to degree-granting institutions, which would better ensure that a student’s practical training furthers the student’s full course of study.”
The Department of Labor will review and revise the PERM system, including modernizing the recruitment methods.
The Hammond Law Group is thrilled that the President is taking needed action to promote reform in our immigration system.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has issued a procurement request for over 34 million work permits and green cards. This would be well above their normal levels. This has caused Republicans to speculate that President Obama is readying a sprawling executive order to drastically change the immigration laws.
Don’t hold your breath. USCIS has made a statement that asking contractors to prepare for contingencies is not unusual and that similar provisions are built into other contract bids the agency has made. “Solicitations of this nature are frequent practice for all USCIS contracts and allow the agency to be prepared for fluctuations in the number of immigration applications received, which can arise for any number of reasons,” USCIS spokesman Chris Bently said in a statement. The government typically uses measures like this to keep costs down in case of unforeseen circumstances.
So, while it is a good thing that USCIS is preparing to issue more work permits and green cards than normal, this probably shouldn’t be taken as a sign that sweeping immigration reform is right around the corner.
The American Immigration Council recently released a chart that shows that many U.S. Presidents have used their executive power to remedy immigration issues that they found to be unjust. Since 1956, every U.S. President has granted some form of temporary immigration relief to at least one group that was found to be in need of assistance. Some specific examples include President Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon’s parole of up to 600,000 Cuban asylum seekers who were fleeing the Cuban revolution, President Ford and Carter’s parole of over 300,000 Southeast Asians who were fleeing the conflict in Vietnam, and President Reagan’s order to defer deportation for up to 200,000 Nicaraguans. Many of these actions were taken to provide relief to affected groups while legislation was pending. In other cases, the Presidents reacted to a humanitarian crisis. President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals follows a long line of historical actions by U.S. Presidents who used their executive authority to address immigration problems. The Hammond Law Group hopes that President Obama will remedy some of the current immigration challenges facing the U.S. by using his “broad executive authority to shape the enforcement and implementation of immigration laws.”
One year has passed since the Senate approved the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” In June of 2013, hopes were high that comprehensive immigration reform would become a reality. One year later, these hopes seem misplaced. The Washington Post recently reported that lawmakers on both sides don’t believe that immigration reform will be successful until President Obama leaves office. Despite statements by both Democrats and Republicans that immigration reform is critical to the survival of their parties, opposition from House Republicans has prevented the passage of any reform. With the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in a primary election to a tea-party challenger whose campaign focused on an anti-immigration platform, immigration reform advocates have lost a critical supporter. Despite these negative developments, there is still time for comprehensive immigration reform to pass. The Hammond Law Group urges readers to contact their representatives to express their support for immigration reform.
The StarTribue recently reported that Cargill, a giant in the agribusiness world, has announced that it will outsource a portion of its information technology services to India. This will affect 900 jobs worldwide, including 300 in the Twin Cities. These jobs will be outsourced to Tata Consultancy Services, a large IT outsourcing firm in Mumbai, India. Some of the affected employees may be offered new positions at Cargill, others may be offered positions at Tata, and the remainder will be laid-off. With three percent unemployment in the information technology industry, we don’t blame Cargill for outsourcing these jobs to India when our outdated immigration laws prevent companies from employing specialized workers here in the U.S., especially when the H-1b cap is reached in just five days. We encourage our readers to contact their Congressional representatives to urge that new immigration laws are passed.
The DHS recently released a report which provided statistics on the characteristics of persons who obtained permanent resident status in FY2012. these statistics highlight the need for the reform of our legal immigration quota system. Only 4% of persons who became permanent residents had advanced degrees and only 12% came under the employment based categories EB1, EB2, or EB3.
Both IT and health care staffing companies have traditionally been major users of H-1b visas. Due to the recent prediction by the USCIS of the H-1b quota for FY 2014 likely being reached in the first week of filing, many staffing companies are concerned that the artificial restrictions being placed on hiring of the best candidates possible will harm their growth in 2013. Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), a leading professional association for companies employing or using contingent workers, recently published on this topic. One of our partners, Mike Hammond was quoted in the article.
Over the past week, several groups have expressed public support for improvements in our legal immigration system and have touted the benefits of increased legal immigration. These include a wide range of advocates including: NYC Mayor Bloomberg teaming with Silicon Valley leaders, a group of Midwestern business leaders, and a conservative Republican group. We remain hopeful that relief for legal immigrants will not be overlooked.