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Immigration bill called good first step for H-1B users

May 28 2013

The U.S. immigration bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21 would raise the annual cap on H-1B visas used to allow highly skilled workers, a move lauded by industry. The bill also did not include onerous regulations that could have hamstrung information technology and engineering staffing firms.

It will go to the full Senate as soon as June 10, and more changes are likely as it moves through Congress.

However, TechServe Alliance CEO Mark Roberts described the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval as a good first step, especially so as the bill was approved on a bipartisan basis.

“As it stands now, IT and engineering staffing firms should be relatively pleased with the legislation,” Roberts said.

The bill would raise the cap on H-1B visas to 115,000 from the current cap of 65,000. The new cap could also rise to as much as 180,000 based on market conditions.

In addition, the number of H-1B visas for holders of advanced science, technology, engineering and math degrees would rise to 25,000 from the present 20,000. The STEM visa numbers are in addition to the regular cap.

The bill would also increase the cost of a regular H-1B to $4,825 from the current $2,325.

And it would require an annual compliance audit of employers with more than 100 employees who work in the U.S. if more than 15 percent of such workers are H-1B holders. In addition, companies with 50 or more employees would be prohibited from hiring additional H-1B visa workers if their workforce exceeds 75 percent H-1B visa holders in federal fiscal year 2015. That percentage would go down to 50 percent in fiscal year 2017.

However, Roberts said the bill does change how visas are counted in determining dependency (15 percent or more H-1Bs); anyone pursuing a green card would effectively be counted as a U.S. worker for these purposes. Most staffing firms do not have more than 15 percent H-1Bs, and those that do typically pursue green cards for their H-1B workers. The bill would have more of an impact on large IT outsourcing firms that rely heavily on H-1Bs.

Roberts also said the amended bill included clarifications of the “intending immigrant,” or green card, exemption. Without that exemption, no firm with more than 15 percent H-1B visa holders could place workers at client sites — which would have been a bad outcome for staffing firms.

The overall immigration bill, S. 744 the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” covers several other issues in addition to H-1Bs. The bill runs more than 800 pages.

However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded the bill which passed the committee.

“The bipartisan legislation is a strong, positive step towards establishing a sensible legal framework and enforceable guidelines that respect the rule of law, helping protect U.S. borders and meeting the economic and social needs of America,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue said in a statement on May 22.


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