Sen. Specter Guest Worker bill to expand foreign worker programs for professionals

Per Schusterman’s Immigration Update, these are (1) Employment-Based (EB) Immigration — the “green card” permanent immigration program. A current cap of 140,000 would be raised to 290,000 per year. The other (2) is the H-1B non-immigration program. The cap is now 65,000. It would be to 115,000 annually. Thereafter, the cap would be controlled by a “market based escalator mechanism”. However: persons with advanced degrees in math, science, technology and engineering would be exempt from the cap.
EB in depth: See for a for in-depth treatment by Stephen Yale-Loehr and Michael J. Bayer. An excerpt:

The U.S. immigration system has five employment-based (EB) immigrant visa categories that allow up to 140,000 people a year obtain permanent residence (also known as “green cards”) in the United States through their work or skills. These categories are set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which codifies most but not all U.S. immigration laws. This article summarizes the five employment-based categories.

The INA gives first preference to “priority workers,” including noncitizen workers of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives. Second preference goes to professionals with advanced degrees and workers with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. The third employment-based category includes professionals without advanced degrees, skilled workers, and unskilled workers. The fourth EB category provides visas for certain “special immigrants,” such as religious workers. Finally, the fifth EB category reserves a certain number of visas for immigrant investors seeking to enter the United States to start a commercial enterprise that will create or save at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers.

The H1B program is overviewed here.

The United States H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa, which allows a US company to employ a foreign individual for up to six years. Applying for a non-immigrant visa is generally quicker than applying for a ‘Green Card. Individuals cannot apply for an H1B visa to allow them to work in the US. The employer must petition for entry of the employee. H1B visas are subject to annual numerical limits.

The H1B visa is designed to be used for staff in “specialty occupations”, that is those occupations which require a high degree of specialized knowledge. Generally at least the equivalent of a job-relevant 4-year US Bachelor’s degree is required (this requirement can usually be met by having a 3-year degree and 3 years’ relevant post-graduate experience). However, professionals such as lawyers, doctors, accountants and others must be licensed to practice in the state of intended employment – e.g. a lawyer must generally have passed the relevant state bar exam.

H-1B workers are supposed to be paid a prevailing wage, based on state, federal or private-survey employment data. Most companies use federal or state salary data, according to immigration attorneys, who said the current system doesn’t give employers much flexibility, often forcing them to pay a wage that is higher than an employee’s skills and training warrant.

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