Congress has agreed to provisions that will be in the Omnibus Spending Bill for 2016. Below is a summary of how this bill will (and will not) affect certain immigration provisions.
- The Conrad 30 and EB-5 and Immigration Religious Worker Program will be extended to the end of 2016
- H-1B/L-1 Program: There was a fee for those companies that have: 50 or more employees AND at least 50% of employees are on H-1Bs or L-1s. This bill raised the fee to: $4000 (from $2000) for the H-1B program and to $4500 (from $2250) for the L-1 program. It makes the fee due for all initial AND renewals, and extends the fee legislation for 10 years. These funds are used for 9/11 programs and biometric exit/entry programs.
- Visa Waiver Program: There are two changes. First all Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, and Sudanese citizens are categorically excluded from the program. The Second change is that anyone from a country currently (or in the future) that is part of the visa waiver program, cannot use the visa waiver program if they have EVER visited Syria, Iran, Iraq or Sudan.
- The bill does NOT contain any changes or restrictions to the refugee program, DACA/DAPA program, or anything prohibiting so called “sanctuary cities”
- Some changes to the H-2B program are also contained in the bill
Personally, I think the biggest issue here is the changes to the Visa Waiver program prohibiting those who have visited Syria, Iran, Iraq or Sudan from using the system. While it does not prohibit such people from getting a tourist visa or other visa to enter the US, it does seem to penalize EVERYONE who has visited these countries, including all those people who are aide providers for organizations, or those who entered these countries to help the US in its efforts against terrorism in those countries. Considering that those who are using the visa waiver program already have to pre-register using ESTA (which flags those who have previous immigrant violations or security concerns) I am not sure how much this will actually protect the US, and there are many, less drastic ways, to try and stop terrorists from entering the US. For example, increasing the use of background checks and biometrics for everyone wishing to enter the US would be more effective and would not be discriminatory.
In addition, excluding nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lybia from the US Visa Waiver programs means that other countries will exclude US Citizens with dual citizenship as a Syrian, Irani, Iraqi or Sudanese from their visa waiver programs (England has already stated that they would take such an action). This punishes American Citizens for no good reason. I would hope that the US Congress re-thinks this provision, and removes this change from the bill.