The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill introduced in the House of Representatives would revamp the existing employment-based (EB) preference system in a number of important ways.
Proposed Changes to the EB Preference System
1) Increase in EB Numbers – The number of employment-based green cards would increase from 140,000 to 290,000 per year.
2) Recapture – Currently, 140,000 persons are permitted to immigrate to the U.S. each year under the EB preference system. If less than 140,000 visa numbers are given out by the end of the government’s fiscal year on September 30, the remaining numbers are essentially thrown away. As a result, in most years, 20,000 to 30,000 visa numbers are lost.
The bill would change this system so that whatever EB visa numbers are remaining at the end of the fiscal year would simply be carried over to the next fiscal year. In addition, all the visa numbers which were lost during the past 17 fiscal years would be “recaptured” and used to help clear the growing backlogs in the system. We estimate these recaptured visas would number in the hundreds of thousands.
3) Exemptions from the Annual Visa Cap – In the family-based preference system, “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens (parents, spouses and children) are exempt from numerical limits. However, in the current EB system, no one is exempt. Every system needs to have priorities. The new bill would make the following categories of immigrants exempt from the EB cap:
a. Schedule A Shortage Occupations – Registered Nurses and Physical Therapists;
b. STEM workers – Persons with M.S. or Ph.D. degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics who have worked in the U.S.
c. Recipients of Masters or higher degrees from U.S. universities;
d. Recipients of medical specialty certification based on postdoctoral training and experience in the United States;
e. Persons with approved National Interest Waivers; and
f. Spouses and children of those persons in the above categories.
4) Early Applications for Adjustment of Status – In a welcome break from the past, the new bill would allow persons with approved EB visa petitions to immediately apply for adjustment of status, and to obtain both work permits and travel authorization in three-year increments. Presently, persons with approved EB visa petitions must wait until their priority dates become current before they can apply for adjustment of status.
This was not a significant problem when backlogs were short or nonexistent. However, now that the retrogression has resulted in backlogs of up to 7 to 8 years, persons must continually extend their H-1B status, or if they are in another nonimmigrant status, they may not be able to seek an extension at all. Persons who apply for adjustment of status before their priority dates are current will be subject to a $500 surcharge.
5) Exemptions from PERM – Certain EB immigrants are exempt from the PERM requirement. The new bill will exempt two additional groups from PERM:
a. Recipients of medical specialty certification based on postdoctoral training and experience in the United States; and
b. Recipients of Masters or higher degrees from U.S. universities.
6) Increased Per-Country Limitation – The percentage of EB green cards which could be used for persons from a single country would be increased from 7% of 140,000 (9,800) to 10% of 290,000 (29,000) per year.
The new bill would create a “Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets” which would make recommendations regarding future flows of workers to the U.S. The bill would also create a web-based job search engine dubbed the “American Worker Recruitment and Match System” (AWRMS). The system would match job seekers with employers and would be established and run by the various State Workforce Agencies (SWAs).
We link to detailed summaries of the new bill from our Immigration Legislation page. at
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