Congress Proposes Additional Visa Numbers

By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Joseph I. Elias

The current immigration political climate is both toxic and uncertain. John McCain has said that if he becomes president, he will not push for any immigration reform until the Department of Homeland Security confirms our borders are secure. Also, McCain changed his position on comprehensive immigration reform which would legalize 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States (US). In fact, McCain recently said he would not vote for the legalization bill he previously proposed.

Barack Obama, in contrast, recognizes that U.S. Immigration laws need to be overhauled. He supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes “a pathway so that [immigrants] can earn citizenship, earn a legal status, start learning English, pay a fine, go to the back of the line, but they can then stay here and they can have the ability to enforce a minimum wage that they’re paid, make sure the worker safety laws are available, make sure that they can join a union.”

Amidst this political backdrop Congress has recently marked up immigration bills that will bring immediate relief to many immigrants. Representatives Wexler and Sensenbrenner introduced a bill to provide an additional 20,000 employment visas per year for 3 years for nurses and physical therapists. This is welcome news for employers and workers alike. The Department of Labor has already declared that there is an acute shortage of nurses and physical therapists in the US. Willing, able and qualified RNs and PTs are ready to immigrate to the US to help address the shortage. Medical facilities are ready to hire. But, because of visa number delays, it takes approximately 3 to 5 years to get the RNs and PTs here. This is unworkable for both the workers and employers. Both are being made to put career and staffing decisions on hold for 5 years. The increase in visa numbers promises to be a temporary fix that will reduce visa wait times.

Representative Lofgren of California, along with Representative Sensenbrenner have taken the visa number issue even further. They introduced a second bill to recapture employment-based and family-sponsored immigrant visas lost to processing and bureaucratic delays. The bill recaptures unused or unclaimed employment-based visas and family sponsored visas from fiscal years 1992 through 2007. It also allows unused family and employment-based visas in future years to automatically “roll over” to the next fiscal year.

This is significant. The maximum number of family and employment-based visas that may be issued in a fiscal year is set by law. But, because of processing or other bureaucratic delays the maximum visas are not issued and many thousands go unused. There is no current provision in the law to allow these numbers to be carried over into the next year. Think of this as a cell phone plan with fixed minutes per month. The current system has no rollover minutes. If you didn’t use all your minutes from last month, you lose them forever. The newly marked up bill would provide several thousand more visa numbers to be recaptured, reducing waiting times for immigrants. It would also ensure that visa numbers are never again lost or go unused. If the visa numbers were cell phone minutes, the new bill recognizes these minutes don’t go stale and they can be rolled over.

These bills will help keep families together, provide meaningful employment opportunities for immigrants and will be good for the United States of America. We look forward to these bills becoming law.