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Immigration reform could mean more access to employment-based visas

Now that the government shutdown has been resolved, President Obama has announced that immigration reform will be one of his top priorities in the coming weeks and months. While no one knows exactly what form final immigration measures will take, some legislation has already been proposed. One version of immigration reform currently in the Senate would significantly increase the caps on employment-based visas, giving foreign workers a better chance at achieving lawful residence in the United States.

Cap on H1-B visas would be nearly tripled under new bill

Over the past decade, American employers have consistently exhausted the supply of H1-B visas available for highly skilled workers. Each year, there is a cap on the number of H1-B visas; H1-B visas become available every year starting in April, and in 2013 the supply was exhausted within a week. While demand has been slower in less economically robust years, the H1-B cap has been met in each of the past 10 years.

Visas for highly skilled workers are not the only area in which current policies are coming up short. For instance, demand for H2-B visas for seasonal and temporary workers has exceeded the cap in four out of the last ten years. And, visas specifically for temporary agricultural workers under the H2-A program have only been issued to around 30,000 foreign workers, while far more undocumented immigrants are filling the labor market void in agriculture; the H2-A programs requires employers to show that no American-born workers will take the jobs they are offering, which is very next to impossible to prove.

The current immigration reform bill out of the U.S. Senate would seek to address some of these deficiencies. If passed, the current H1-B visa cap would be nearly tripled. In addition, a new type of visa, known as the "W visa," would be created for lower-skilled workers. W visas would also be subject to a cap, but the cap would increase over time, up to as many as 200,000 a year. The Senate bill also includes provisions specific to certain industries, such as a requirement that foreign workers engaged in crop harvesting would have to be paid $9.17 per hour.

Stay on top of immigration law changes with help from an attorney

It is unlikely that the current Senate bill will be the last word on immigration reform, and as negotiations hopefully progress in the near future, its provisions are likely to be modified. But one thing that does seem certain is that change is coming to the immigration system, and if you are seeking legal resident status in the United States, you need to stay abreast of developments that may affect you. Talk to an immigration attorney today to learn more about your legal options to pursue citizenship or temporary legal residency.