The U.S. Senate has recently passed an appropriations bill with some favorable and unfavorable immigration amendments attached to them. The following are some of the amendments:
- The Senate passed an amendment to the Labor Appropriations Bill which would allow for the recapturing of previously lost employment-based immigrant visa numbers from 1996 and 1997. These recaptured numbers would be reserved exclusively for shortage occupations contained on the U.S. Department of Labor's Schedule A Group No. 1. For the past 20 years, this shortage occupations schedule has been limited solely to Registered Nurse and Physical Therapist occupations. In order to use one of these recaptured numbers, most employers would be required to pay a $1,500 fee. A limited waiver of this fee is available for medical facilities located in medically underserved areas.
- As discussed in our firm's previous Immigration Update, a provision extending for an additional year the Returning Worker exemption in the H-2B category was contained in the Commerce Appropriations Bill. This exemption previously expired on September 30, 2007. If contained in the final bill in its current format, the provision would allow individuals who previously were in H-2B classification within the past three years to again obtain H-2B status (if eligible) without regard for the H-2B annual quota of 66,000.
- The Senate passed an amendment to the Labor Appropriations Bill which would add a new fee to the H-1B program. This new fee would be in addition to the current H-1B user fee and fraud fee. This new fee would be $3,500. However, if an employer has less than 26 employees, the new fee would be half of the $3,500. Similar to the H-1B fraud fee, institutions of higher education, non-profit research organizations and public schools would be required to pay this new fee. The only employer that would be exempt from this fee would be public hospitals. The provision does not increase the annual H-1B quota of 65,000.
All of these amendments were contained in the Senate's version of the appropriations bill, but were not contained in the House's version of the same appropriations bill. Therefore, these appropriations bills will have to be reconciled in a Conference Committee. These amendments could be modified or stricken in the Conference Committee. However, if they survive the Conference Committee and ultimately pass through Congress, there still is the likelihood that President Bush may veto the appropriations bills for other reasons. Therefore, at this time, it is not assured that any of these provisions will actually be enacted. Additional information about these amendments will be contained in our firm's future Immigration Updates as the bills progress in Congress.
The Senate also failed to pass a bipartisan bill which would have benefited many undocumented students who have resided in the United States for an extensive period of time. By a vote of 52 to 44, the Senate failed to agree to continue to consider the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2007 (DREAM Act). The Act needed 60 votes in order to continue to be considered in the Senate. Eight (8) Democratic Senators failed to vote for the Act. Additionally, only twelve (12) Republican Senators agreed to continue with the debate of the Act. This was the seventh (7th) year in which the Act was introduced in Congress. In the Senate, the Act was championed by Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois. After the Act was most recently defeated, Senator Durbin indicated that it most likely would not be possible for the Act to be considered again in the Senate until after next year's presidential election. Additionally, the Senator implied in a statement that no other piece of immigration legislation benefiting either legal or undocumented foreign nationals will be able to be considered in the Senate until after the election.