November 6, 2000

President Clinton signed a major immigration bill into law last month, which changed several important features of the framework of the popular H-1B visa for professional guest workers. The law, called "the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 ("ACTA"), came into effect immediately with the October 17 signing, but some important aspects are delayed for a few months. Major highlights are listed below :

Increase in H1B Quota and Fees

The new law increases the total number of visas that can be issued in 2001, 2002, and 2003 to 195,000 for each fiscal year. This is a substantial increase from the current visa limit, and reduce the amount of time during the year that H-1B visas are not available. In addition, the new law frees certain types of employers and workers from the limit altogether, such as workers who will work at a university or government research organization, and certain types of H-1B beneficiaries who are changing from J-visa status.

The new law also increases the H-1B fee by $500, so that now the total fee paid to the INS will be $1110. The new fee will come into effect on or after December 17, 2000.

H1B Can Start Working Upon Filing of H1B

Another important feature of the new law makes the H-1B status "portable." This means that someone who is already in H-1B status, in most cases, may accept new employment and start working immediately upon filing the new H1B petition. (Of course, if the new petition is denied, then the person can no longer work.) This rule applies not just to new H-1B petitions, but to all H-1B petitions that were filed before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the law.

H1B Extensions Beyond Six (6) Years Allowed

One part of the new law deals with H-1B workers who are trying to change to green card status through their employment. Normally, H-1B workers have a maximum of six years in that status. The new law states that if labor certification or an employment-based immigration petition was filed at least one year ago AND the person still has the petition or a green card application pending, then the H-1B six year cap shall not apply against the person. Instead, the INS will approve an H1B petition extension in one-year increments until a final decision is been made on the person's permanent resident status. h5y>

General Improvement of the Immigration System

Another key aspect of the new law tries to improve the immigration system, primarily by finding ways to eliminate backlogs and process all immigration applications within one year, as well as to provide for regular congressional oversight of the INS in eliminating backlogs and processing delays.

Congress believes that all immigration applications should be completed no later than 180 days after the initial filing of the application. Exceptions would be a non-immigrant visa for those applying for H, L, O and P status, which should be processed by the INS no later than 30 days after the date of filing the petition.5y>

Conclusion

The new law has been seen as a great victory for activists fighting for immigration rights and fairness. The fact that the law was passed with such an overwhelming majority shows the importance of immigration to the U.S. economy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Contact John Byrley at tel: 410-719-1501.