Senate Approves H-1B Bill
The Senate has overwhelmingly approved S. 2045, the Hatch-Abraham bill, to raise the cap on H-1B visas for the next three years. In a 96-1 vote, the Senate recognized the valuable role that H-1B nonimmigrants play in our national economy.
The Hatch-Abraham bill firmly addresses many needs in the H-1B and employment-based immigration regime. The specifics of the bill are worth recapping. S. 2045 would increase the H-1B cap to 195,000 for the 2000, 2001, and 2002 fiscal years, and would exempt from the cap employees of higher educational institutions and research institutions, and foreign students graduating from U.S. schools with Masters or Ph.D. degrees. Ostensibly, since the FY2000 quota is also affected, H-1Bs now being issued by the INS should be counted against last year's cap as opposed to this year's cap. This means that a substantial portion of the backlog which has accumulated in Service Centers since March 17, 2000 should not affect this year's cap. In the immigrant visa context, the bill also would fix current problems with per-country limits by allowing unused visas allocated to undersubscribed countries to be used by nationals of oversubscribed countries. Finally, the bill would extend nonimmigrant status for individuals reaching their six-year cap due to those limits.
Unfortunately, the H-1B bill passed the Senate without amendments sought to be included by Democrats. Specifically, Democrats wanted to attach provisions contained in the Latino Immigrant and Fairness Act to S. 2045. These provisions would have extended certain NACARA provisions to additional immigrants, restored 245(i), and updated the registry date. While it is a major victory that the Senate passed S. 2045 so resoundingly, the Senate must act on the other provisions, which restore basic fairness to hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
The near unanimity of passage in the Senate places significant pressure on the House to follow suit quickly and respond to the needs of American businesses. The House will now receive S. 2045 and leadership there seems committed to getting H-1B legislation through quickly. Many think that the House's H-1B bill will look like S. 2045. There already is a bill in the House, HR 3983, the Dreier-Lofgren bill, which is nearly identical to S. 2045. The House has a number of procedural options open to them, but the important thing is that they pass an H-1B bill either HR 3983 or S. 2045.
The House also passed some other immigration matters. Last week, they extended the Religious Worker Immigrant Visa for another three years, clearly indicating strong bipartisan support for this valuable visa. The House also passed Rep. McCollum's bill to restore due process to immigration proceedings which were stripped in 1996 by IIRAIRA. This bill is a small step in the right direction for restoring basic rights, addressing the stop-time provisions and retroactivity of the laws against certain crimes. Senator Kennedy is introducing in the Senate a more complete version to restore due process, which will need to be reconciled with the McCollum bill.
While the process is confusing, it is important to keep this in context. For the first time since 1990, Congress is giving serious consideration to several bills that show a more welcoming face to immigrants. After years of blaming immigrants for everything from overcrowded schools to global warming, the political climate has changed to recognize that immigrants are a positive force in our communities, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
Please contact your representatives on these important matters. House members should be contacted to vote for HR 3983 or S. 2045. In addition, the goals of the Latino Fairness and Immigrant Act, restoration of 245(i), NACARA parity and updated registry must be addressed in both the Senate and the House. You can call the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121 or you can use the "E-Mail Congress" on our website, http://www.ilw.com/mehta.
Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City.He is the trustee of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award.He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-686-1581 or firstname.lastname@example.org