Democrats seek major H-1B, green card reform

New bill would gives green card to science, advanced-degree tech grads and people who create businesses

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The conditional aspect of the visa can be removed after two years if the entrepreneur can show that the business has created full-time jobs for at least three U.S. workers, has raised $1 million in additional capital investments, or has created a new commercial enterprise with at least $1 million in revenue.

The bill will increase the availability of green cards in a number of ways, particularly by exempting spouses and minor children from counting against the limit of 140,000 employment-based green cards. The number of green cards that are actually available to workers is less than half of that number because most green cards are used for spouses and children of the workers, according to details of the bill provided by Lofgren's office.

The bill also allows "certain undocumented immigrants" who qualify for startup entrepreneur visas and advance degree STEM visas "to obtain such visas if they were present in the U.S. on the date of enactment and have been continuously present since that date."

The bill also permits "certain undocumented students who are enrolled in a full course of study at an accredited public or nonprofit U.S. institution of higher education to apply for temporary student visas if they were present in the U.S. on the date of enactment, have been continuously present since that date, and initially entered the U.S. at 15 years of age or younger."

The bill creates a new $2,000 fee for employers who file employment based green card petitions. The money will be used to fund STEM education, with 60% of it to be used for scholarships. Most of the remainder will be used for education and job training, with 3% set aside for administration and enforcement.

On wages, Lofgren's bill appears to raise the salaries for some H-1B workers by eliminating the lowest level of the prevailing wage scale and creating three levels instead of four. It extends the prevailing wage requirement to L-1 workers if they are on the job longer than 18 months over a three-year period.

The bill also ranks the H-1B applications differently. If the H-1B visa cap is exceeded, the applications that offer the highest wage levels are considered first.

The proposal also prohibits displacement of U.S. workers, including by third-party employers, which would likely include contract shops and offshore firms.

Lofgren's legislation would also change one of the most often criticized problems with the H-1B visa, and that's the ability of H-1B employers to hire visa workers without first recruiting U.S workers. The recruiting requirement, however, is applied to green card workers under current law, which is something employers try to work around.

This bill moves the recruitment requirement "from the back end to the front end of the H-1B process." The law includes exceptions, such as one for employers who pay wages that meet or exceed the mean wage.

The bill also removes fashion models from the H-1B program, and puts them in the "P" visa program.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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