Lawmakers propose significant changes to U.S. immigration system

Federal lawmakers are currently considering a reform package that would make significant changes to the U.S. immigration system. As part of that package, lawmakers are considering moving away from family-based immigration in favor of an approach that they hope will bring more high-skilled workers to the United States.

The legislation, which is currently being debated in the Senate, would raise the annual cap for H1-B visas. H1-B visas provide up to six years of residency and employment authorization for high-skilled workers. The legislation would increase the number of available H1-B visas and set aside an additional 25,000 visas for foreign nationals who earn an advanced degree in one of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering or math) from an American school.

The bill would also make legal permanent residency available to an unlimited number of "high achieving" immigrants. This category of immigrants includes scientists, business executives, athletes and individuals holding doctoral degrees from any country.

In addition, the legislation proposes abandoning the visa lottery system in favor of a merit visa system. That system would assign points based on factors including education, work experience and residence in the United States. Visas would be given to the prospective immigrants with the highest point totals. Up to 250,000 visas a year would be allowed under this system, compared with 55,000 visas under the diversity lottery.

Visas for low-skill workers

The legislation would also change the immigration rules applicable to low-skilled workers. Agricultural workers who have been working in the U.S. without legal authorization for at least two years could qualify for legal permanent residency if they stay employed in the U.S. agricultural industry for another five years.

The legislation also creates a new visa for low-skilled workers. Up to 200,000 people per year could qualify for W visas to work in industries including health care, hospitality and construction.

A move away from family immigration

Traditionally, most people who immigrate to the United States have done so based on their familial ties to a legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen. However, if this legislation becomes law and the focus changes to employment-based immigration, many of these pathways will be eliminated.

Specifically, the legislation would eliminate the ability to sponsor siblings and adult children for immigration. Prospective sibling and adult child immigrants who have been waiting for green cards would be expedited through the process before these channels are closed.

Working with an immigration attorney

The proposed legislation will introduce new complexities into what is already a complicated immigration system. If you are hoping to immigrate to the United States, or if you are seeking a visa on behalf of a loved one or a potential employee, it is important to work with an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney will be able to help you navigate the process to ensure that things move as smoothly and as quickly as possible.