Congress Passes Key Visa Reauthorization Bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 13, 2012, passed bill S. 3245, which would reauthorize for three years E-Verify as well as certain immigrant visa programs set to expire at the end of the month. The vote was 412-3.

The bill, if signed by President Barack Obama within the next 10 days, would reauthorize the E-Verify program, the EB-5 Regional Center program, the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker program and the Conrad State 30 J-1 Visa Waiver program. The reauthorization of these programs would be in effect from Sept. 30, 2012, until Sept. 30, 2015.

E-Verify is a free, Internet-based service that enables employers to electronically verify that newly hired employees are authorized to work in the United States by voluntarily comparing information from an employee's Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 to data from U.S. government records. More than 300,000 employers use the program, including the federal government, legislative branch and contractors.

“SHRM and its members are fully committed to only hiring work-authorized individuals and believe that an extension of the E-Verify program is a step in the right direction,” said Mike Aitken, vice president of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “We also recognize, however, that the current employment verification system is in need of real reform. That is why we are pleased to see that Congress included language in the extension to explore the use of identity authentication approaches through the E-Verify program and to encourage the seamless integration of an electronic I-9 into E-Verify to create a simplified electronic verification process.”

Sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the bill was introduced on May 24, 2012, and passed in the Senate by unanimous consent on Aug. 2. SHRM and its strategic affiliate, The American Council on International Personnel (ACIP), worked with members of Congress to include this language in the process and will continue to push forward sensible reforms to improve the employment verification process, Aiken said.

“ACIP supports these changes, which will help simplify the process and protect employers in the verification process,” said ACIP executive director Lynn Shotwell.

Other Affected Visa Programs

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administers the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as “EB-5,” created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a pilot immigration program first enacted in 1992 and regularly reauthorized since, certain EB-5 visas also are set aside for investors in regional centers designated by USCIS based on proposals for promoting economic growth. The minimum required investment is $1 million in a qualifying commercial enterprise that creates or preserves at least 10 full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers within two years. The minimum qualifying investment within either a high unemployment area or a rural area in the United States is $500,000. This legislation reauthorizes a program within the EB-5 visa category called the Regional Center Pilot Program that allows EB-5 investors to pool their resources to invest in a project within such financially troubled areas.

The Conrad State 30 J-1 program waives the two-year residence requirement under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for international medical graduates who have completed their medical education in the United States and choose to work at least three years in medically underserved areas.

The Non-Minister Religious Worker program provides up to 5,000 special immigrant visas each year; religious organizations use them to sponsor foreign nationals to come to the United States and perform vital services to people in some of the nation’s neediest and most underserved areas. The program enjoys widespread support among religious organizations.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.  To read the original article, please click here.