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NY Times: Immigration Bill to Include Merit-Based System

The New York Times is reporting on some details of the Senate’s immigration bill, set to be released next week.

The sweeping immigration bill that a bipartisan group of senators is preparing will include a major new merit-based program for foreigners to become permanent legal residents based on their work skills, including both high-skilled and blue-collar workers, according to people familiar with a draft of the legislation.

Over time the program, just one piece of the bill, would open up many new opportunities for foreigners to settle in the United States based on their skills, a shift from the focus on family ties that is the main foundation of the current immigration system.

. . .

At the end of 10 years, the bill would create a program offering 138,000 merit-based visas each year to foreigners based on their work skills, but also on other considerations including family ties. Green cards will be offered to workers in three categories: high-skilled foreigners in technology and science, employees with a middle range of white collar skills, and low-wage workers. Farmworkers are not included, as they will come under a separate program.

The bill also purportedly seeks to eliminate the backlog of 4.7 million individuals who have been waiting to move through the current immigration system and obtain lawful permanent resident status.

H-1B Cap Has Been Met for FY2014

USCIS announced yesterday that the H-1B cap has been reached during the first week of filing. This means that businesses who seek highly-skilled foreign nationals will have each petition subject to a lottery process, to determine which petitions can be approved. In many cases, unless there is another basis for work authorization, foreign nationals with approved H-1B petitions are not authorized to begin work until October 01, 2013, the first day of the federal government’s 2014 fiscal year.

H-1B petitions are filed by employers who require workers to perform services in a “specialty occupation,” or one for which a bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum requirement. The cap is set at 85,000, which includes 20,000 petitions for positions which require a master’s degree.

The Brookings Institution posted an article on Monday, April 1st which outlined the proposed changes to the H-1B program under the Immigration and Innovation Act of 2013 (“I-Squared Act”) which would revise the system to a floating cap with a ceiling of 300,000 and a floor of 115,000.

As the article summarizes

The current immigration reform debate is a great opportunity to overhaul the system and move away from an arbitrary race against time for H-1B visas. A new method that structures America’s future immigration system to better meet the demand for high-skilled workers—through less-arbitrary H-1B visa caps, new visa classes, and better-targeted workforce training—will be welcomed by employers and workers alike.

If the H-1B visa system is revamped, this may be the last time we see the race to the H-1B visa cap.


The New “W Visa”

Immigration law contains an alphabet soup of different visa categories, and based on recent reports, a new “W visa” may be added to the list.

This visa would become available in 2015 for business seeking lower-skilled foreign national workers, with 20,000 visas available in the first year and the number to increase every subsequent year until the fifth year, when the number would rise or fall based upon recommendations from a newly-created government immigration bureau. Wage protections would also exist in this visa category, as they currently exist in other visa categories, with employers required to pay the higher of the employer’s actual wage or the prevailing wage for the position.

Agreement between business and labor organizations on the issue of a visa category for lower-skilled workers is highly significant for comprehensive immigration reform. As reported by USA Today:

“This issue has always been the deal breaker on immigration reform, but not this time,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been involved in the current immigration deal and several failed efforts in the past.

The agreement was reached on Friday night between Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and brokered by Senator Schumer. On the Sunday talk shows, however, other members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight, including Senator Marco Rubio (Rep. FL), tempered excitement about the deal with clarification that the final details and the final draft bill had yet to be reviewed by the legislators.

The Washington Post offered additional details of the draft bill.

Separately, the new immigration bill also is expected to offer many more visas for high-tech workers, new visas for agriculture workers, and provisions allowing some agriculture workers already in the U.S. a speedier path to citizenship than that provided to other illegal immigrants, in an effort to create a stable agricultural workforce.

Washington Roundtable: The Skills Gap in Washington State

A report released this week by The Boston Consulting Group and the Washington Roundtable was designed to encourage Washington legislators to take bold action to address the shortage of skilled workers in the state. It highlights the significant gap between available positions and qualified workers to perform them.

Based on this analysis, we concluded that there are currently approximately 25,000 “acute” unfilled jobs in the state of Washington as a result of the job skills gap. Approximately 80 percent of those openings are in highly skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, such as computer science and engineering, and high-demand health care occupations.

The report defines an “acute skills gap” existing in situations in which “a company is unable to fill positions that have remained open for three months or more due to a lack of qualified candidates – based on educational, experience and quality requirements – while offering a prevailing market wage.”

This study, as well as many other economic analyses, have identified the “multiplier effect” which quantifies the additional economic activity and job opportunities which result from filling each high-skill position. According to the report, “[b]ased on conservative multiplier estimates, filling the 50,000 skills gap related jobs projected to exist by 2017 will result in another 110,000 jobs in Washington state.” Specific multipliers were identified for particular industries (a multiplier of four would indicate that, for each position filled, three other positions are created):

• Computer Science: 4.6

• Engineering: 4.0

• Healthcare: 1.7

• Other positions: 2.7 (A weighted average)

One of the key recommendations in the report is expansion of employment-based immigration.

Accessing international talent remains a critical strategy along with state strategies to build the capacity to prepare enough skilled workers to close the job skills gap. This is not primarily a state issue, as H1-B visas for high-skilled knowledge workers are controlled at the federal level. However, as one of the nation’s most technology-dependent economies, Washington is more affected than most states by limits placed on this source of talent. Therefore, the state’s private and public sector leadership should work with Washington’s congressional delegation to encourage substantial increases in the H1-B visa limit.

Based upon projections from USCIS, the H-1B cap for the entire fiscal year of 2014, which begins on October 01, 2013, is expected to be reached within the first week in which petitions will be accepted, beginning April 1st.

WashPost: Prominent Justice Department Official Tapped to Become Next Secretary of Labor

The Washington Post and other news outlets are reporting that President Obama will name a prominent Justice Department official to succeed Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. Thomas E. Perez currently serves as the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.

Perez has strong labor support and served as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) labor secretary from 2007 until 2009, when he was tapped for the Justice Department position. Perez, a longtime Takoma Park resident, also served on the Montgomery County Council and was the first Latino elected to the council. He has been the key official under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. handling civil rights cases, the centerpiece of what Holder hopes will be his legacy.

The Department of Labor administers several key areas of immigration law and regulations.

The Employment and Training Administration within the Department of Labor administers the regulations which apply to foreign nationals who are entering the U.S. to work on a temporary or permanent basis.

The Wage and Hour Division is charged with ensuring employer compliance with laws and regulations relating to the employment of foreign nationals. This division has the authority to levy fines against employers or debar them from participating in certain programs if they have violated regulations.


Work on Comprehensive Immigration Reform Continues Behind the Scenes in the Senate

With news on the budget sequestration dominating the headlines, work on Comprehensive Immigration Reform continues in the Senate.

Although senators are not discussing the bill specifics, they are commenting on the process.

“I tell you what, this is one of the best experiences I’ve had. Everybody’s serious, everybody’s knowledgeable, they’ve been around the issue,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham-R-S.C., who’s up for re-election next year and facing a potential GOP primary challenge from the right. He said it’s “sort of what I came up here to do — sit down with serious people to solve serious and hard problems.”

. . .

McCain and Schumer sometimes take the lead in the meetings but others speak up as issues arise that are of special importance to them. Menendez has made family reunification a focus; Durbin has championed the cause of illegal immigrants brought to the country as children. Graham and Schumer have jointly tried to help broker an agreement between business and labor over a program to bring future workers to the country, which several lawmakers said remains the toughest challenge.

. . .

The legislation the group is working on would secure the border; provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, contingent on a secure border first; crack down on employers; and improve legal immigration. Senators have indicated some consensus on elements related to border security and the path to citizenship.

They are struggling on the question of legal immigration and future workers, and are trading proposals with leaders of the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce to try to get a deal.

Immigration Reform Strategies Vary in House and Senate

Politico reports that, as the bill strategies develop in the House and Senate, it appears more likely that the House will pass a number of bills addressing Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), while the Senate will pass one piece of legislation covering all aspects of CIR. Differences between the two will be resolved in conference committee.

The desire to avoid comprehensive movement on immigration is so widespread,  so geographically diverse, that it’s hard to ignore and might be impossible for  leadership to circumvent.

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) said he is “hopeful … that rather than trying to do  a major comprehensive reform, we will try and do it sequentially.”

“Everyone agrees on certain things,” Ribble said.

Rooney said Republicans would “lose a group of people right off the bat” if  they try to cobble together a comprehensive bill.

In addition, Rep. Paul Ryan, a leader in the Republican caucus, has become involved in the CIR discussions.

A cluster of previously unknown GOP working groups — which are working with  Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — are reviewing immigration issues ranging from  agricultural to high-tech visas, to border security and dealing with illegal  immigrants already in the country. These proposals will supplement the main  House bipartisan talks on immigration, which are being led by Rep. Mario  Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida. Ryan has also been in  contact with the bipartisan group, according to sources.