The Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed on a new deal for high-skilled workers in need of a visa. The H-1B visa has been at the center of a long-running debate between U.S. employers and unions. There are 65,000 H-1B visas, primarily used by the high tech sector based in California. The high tech industry has been clamoring for more H-1B visas for foreign-born workers with advanced degrees to enter the United States, while U.S. unions generally have opposed bringing in outside employees when the unemployment rate across the nation is still so high.
A compromise was hammered out by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) after weeks of work. The Senators agreed to modify the conditions of workers who use an H1-B visa. The AFL-CIO has yet to support their compromise.
Previous suggested amendments have been rejected, including the one from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) which would have boosted the annual number of H-1B visas to 325,000 from 65,000.
The bipartisan Group of Eight proposed that the current number of H-1B visas go to somewhere between 110,000 and 180,000; the number is dependant on the needs of the U.S. economy continuing to improve and the fluctuating needs of the labor force.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also rejected an amendment requiring that audit companies use H-1B workers.
H-1B visas are intended for foreign workers with advanced technical skills and post-college degrees, such as engineers, scientists, computer programmers and journalists. Companies in the high-tech sector have been pushing for more H-1B visas even before 2008, when the U.S. economy tanked. They argued that the quota of H-1B visas was too small for their hiring needs; the quotas were regularly filled within hours of applications being accepted between 2004 and 2007. In 2007, the applications were filled in under 24 hours.
The H-1B is what is known as a “non-immigrant visa,” used by the U.S. as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). The H-1B gives employers in the country the ability to temporarily employ workers from foreign counties in specialty occupations.
If someone is working with an H-1B status and quits or is fired by the sponsoring employer, that worker must find new employment, apply for and be granted a change of status to another non-immigrant status, or leave the United States. They must have, at least, a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure.
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