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Changes to U.S. work visa programs: What does it mean for workers?

The Department of Homeland Security has recently issued a rule to improve job flexibility for employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visa holders. The rule has been eagerly awaited by the business immigrant community and employers. It will take effect just before President Barack Obama leaves office, on January 17.

The US limits the number of employment-based immigrant visas that it grants each year. Many skilled workers, especially from India and China are waiting on work visas for years. The main issue is the long backlog. Processing periods are another problem. Since there is a time limit for work visas, processing delays can add to the problem. The newly issued rule intends to tackle those obstacles.

Who is affected by the new rule?

Skilled immigrant and nonimmigrant foreign workers stand to really benefit from this new rule. This means that H-1B holders will have more flexibility in their work life. Employment-based first (EB1), second and third immigrant visa holders will also greatly benefit. EB1 is for permanent workers outstanding in their field such as researchers and executives. EB2 is for professionals in advanced degrees (typically in the STEM field), and EB3 is for skilled workers.

Not only workers but employers stand to profit from this new rule. There is a massive need for high-skilled immigrant workers in the U.S., especially in science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM fields). Demand for STEM workers is outpacing what U.S. citizens can provide. Over the last decade job growth in STEM has been three times faster than in other professions in the U.S, while the number of American citizen students in STEM fields has only grown at 0.8%.

What will this mean for those workers?

Several improvements have been made to the H-1B visa status; the most common work visa in the U.S. Non-immigrant work visa holders will be eligible for status extensions. This is key for employees trying to change jobs. Anyone requiring a license that is delayed by a backlog will be granted an H1B visa for up to a year.

The new rule will also give highly skilled immigrant workers grace periods - two 10-day periods and a 60-day period for immigrants with EB1, EB2 and EB3 status. The grace period will give these workers time to accept promotions, change positions and look for new jobs.

If you are seeking an H-1B work visa or are searching for something more permanent then contact an attorney experienced in immigration law. They can explain the complicated rules regarding U.S. work visas.

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