Congressional negotiators on Wednesday night announced a budget deal that looked likely to pass and to be signed by the President.
Not a continuing resolution but a real budget! It’s been so long.
Our first question was whether it would materially change the immigration law. Although Republicans had tried to attach a number of “riders” to the bill targeted at limiting immigration, few were successful. We’ll likely know a lot more once we’ve read the 2009-page tome, but for now it’s clear that two immigration changes are coming.
What Immigration Provisions Are in the Bill?
Increase in Visa Numbers. This was not on our radar, but apparently the omnibus budget includes an increase in the number of H-2B visas available for seasonal workers. I’m told the bill doesn’t actually raise the statutory cap of 66,000 visas, but it removes certain H-2B workers from being subject to the cap. Paul Ryan is saying it’s about an 8,000 per-year increase, while Breitbart and others are saying this will triple or even quadruple the number of H-2B workers.
Use of Private Wage Surveys: This is much bigger than the increase in numbers, although the Right doesn’t seem as mad about it.
The budget bill apparently includes a provision that allows employers to use private wage surveys to determine the prevailing wage that the bosses are required by law to pay.
If the Labor Secretary “determines that the methodology and data … are not statistically supported,” then the private surveys can be invalidated, but apparently the Bill doesn’t say what that means.
For H-2B petitioning employers, this is good news. For H-2B workers (and US workers who would do those jobs if they paid a fair wage), this likely means lower wages in some cases.
Other Changes: the bill also provides flexibility on start dates for seafood workers, defines “seasonal” to mean ten months, and limits the DOL’s ability to implement aspects of the interim final rule (which could be very significant).
Changes to the Visa Waiver Program
The only real immigration change is to the visa waiver program, and it isn’t as robust as the House bill had included.
Under the visa waiver program 20 million immigrants visit the United States each year. But with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris (all of the attackers were from visa waiver countries) Congress wanted to act quickly.
The negotiated bill includes language from the House bill that would increase information sharing among visa waiver countries and increase screening of visa waiver travelers who have visited specific countries.
Although some had proposed exemptions for aid workers dual citizens, the negotiated bill contains neither.
EB-5 CONRAD-30 and Special Immigrant Religious Workers
These provisions were scheduled to sunset but have been extended with the various continuing resolutions. However, the new budetuthorizes the EB-5, Conrad 30, Special Religious Workers, and E-Verify programs through September 30, 2016.
Changes to the H-1B and L-1 Requirements
The budget also several changes to the H-1B/L-1 fees for companies with more than 50 employees and companies where 50% or more of the employees hold H-1B or L-1 status. The funds generated by these fees will be split between the 9-11 programs and the Biometric Entry-Exit program.
Aid for Mexico and Central America to Discourage Immigration
According to Rep. Cuellar, the budget also includes roughly $1 billion in economic development aid for Mexico and Central America to help encourage undocumented immigrants to stop coming to the United States.
What’s Not in the Bill?
Although the House passed a restrictive bill earlier this month limiting the admission of refugees from Iraq and Syria, the negotiated spending bill doesn’t contain any such measures.
The bill is also missing any language on the supposed “sanctuary cities” that seemed so likely to become part of any future budget last summer after a homeless immigrant murdered a woman in San Francisco.