Congress approves spending bill containing key immigration provisions

18 Dec 15

UNITED STATES

Congress approved a $1.15 trillion spending bill Friday that includes a number of key immigration provisions, including increases in H-1B and L-1 visa fees for certain employers, changes to the Visa Waiver Program, and the reauthorization of E-Verify and other immigration programs.

President Barack Obama has said he will sign the bill.

Introduced earlier this week, the spending bill contains provisions to increase visa petition fees in the H-1B and L-1 programs for employers with 50 or more U.S. employees, of whom more than 50 percent are in H-1B or L-1 status. The fees will rise to $4,000 for H-1B petitions and $4,500 for L-1 petitions and will apply to extensions as well as initial filings. These fees will remain in effect until Sept. 30, 2025.

The spending bill also contains provisions that place new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program. Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria or other areas of concern designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security since March 1, 2011 will be barred from entering the U.S. without a visa. Nationals of these countries will need to apply for a visa to enter the U.S. even if they also hold citizenship from a VWP country. The bill imposes stricter eligibility criteria and information-sharing obligations on participating countries, including a requirement that VWP countries issue machine-readable e-passports by April 1, 2016 and have the ability to validate them by Oct. 1, 2016. All VWP travelers will be required to have e-passports by April 1. The bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security to enhance the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

Finally, the spending bill reauthorizes four immigration programs that were scheduled to expire: E-Verify, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, the Special Immigrant Religious Worker program, and the Conrad 30 Waiver program for foreign doctors. The programs will be extended without reform through Sept. 30, 2016.

BAL Analysis: While some programs will be extended without reform, the increases in visa fees will impose significant costs on some employers and the changes to the Visa Waiver Program will make it more difficult for certain travelers to enter the U.S. BAL continues to review and analyze the 2,009-page legislation and will continue to provide updates in the coming days. Please contact your BAL attorney if you have any questions regarding this legislation and how it affects your business.

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