The highly coveted US H1B visa is set to be modernised, according to proposals put forward by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The US intends to update the H1B program as part of its regulatory agenda for 2023, which could benefit tens of thousands of applicants, especially Indian nationals.
Indian nationals receive the largest share of H1B visas annually, and its understood that the modified H1B program will make it easier for startups based in the US to hire foreign workers on H1B non-immigrant visas. Other changes to the scheme will include a more streamlined process and plans to reduce H1B visa fraud or misuse.
The DHS proposals form part of the government department’s Unified Agenda – a bi-yearly regulatory agenda that provides a blueprint for planned federal rulemaking across various government agencies.
The DHS said that its main focus is to revise the regulations associated with the employer-employee relationship, with plans to implement new legislation and guidelines for workplace visits in connection with petitions filed by H1B dependent employers whose basic business information cannot be verified through commercially available data.
The proposals will also incorporate greater flexibility for employment start dates in certain circumstances, while addressing ‘cap-gap’ issues, which affect international students on US F1 visas.
The DHS is further targeting improvements to regulations that would improve the efficiency of processing Applications to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485), which are used by non-immigrant visa holders when they switch US immigration status and apply for a green card or US permanent residency.
The proposals put forward by the DHS aim to reduce processing times, which currently plague the green card processing system – often running into decades for those applying.
The DHS has said that it will also ‘work to promote the efficient use of immediately available immigrant visas to include the expansion of concurrent filing to the employment-based 4th preference (certain special immigrants) category, including religious workers’.
Time to implement
However, the plans are currently in the ‘proposed rule stage’ and if agreed and introduced, they will take some time to be implemented.
Back in March of this year a bipartisan bill to amend the US Immigration and Nationality Act was presented with the aim of ‘comprehensively’ overhauling the H1B and L1 visa programs to ‘reduce fraud and abuse’ while protecting American workers and US visa holders.
Among the various proposals within this bill was a plan to scrap the existing H1B visa lottery selection process and introduce an H1B allocation system based on merit. The bill sought to crackdown on outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H1B and L1 workers for temporary training purposes, only to return workers to their homelands to do the same job.
Proposed by Senate Majority Whip, Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Tommy Tuberville, Sherrod Brown, Bill Hagerty, and Bernie Sanders.
An official statement from the senators said: “The H1B and L1 visa Reform Act will reduce fraud and abuse, provide protections for American workers and visa holders, and require more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.”
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