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Update on Immigration Reform: Possible Creation of New “W” Visa

1110515_boardroom.jpgThe eight Senators who are drafting the much anticipated comprehensive immigration reform legislation – referred to in the media as the “Gang of 8” – recently announced that their legislation could include an entirely new visa classification called the W visa.

The new W visa would be a solution to U.S. businesses’ problem with the shortage in low-skilled and non-seasonal workers in the job market (such as construction workers, hotel employees, and janitorial staff). The W visa conception and proposal resulted from the Gang of 8 requesting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO provide suggestions on how a new visa category could successfully address the needs of U.S. employers while balancing the rights and protections of American citizen workers.

W Visa: Benefits and Disadvantages

Since the Gang of 8 has not introduced an immigration bill into the Senate, they have not released many specific details regarding the requirements and restrictions of the prospective new W visa. However, the Senators have spoken to the media about possible features of the W visa which would make this classification potentially very useful to both U.S. employers and foreign workers.

For instance, the Senators state that W visa workers would be able to petition the U.S. government for a green card after their employment, an exceptionally attractive benefit that is not currently available to the other temporary work visa classifications. Additionally, these workers would be allowed to change employers and job positions while in the United States, another important benefit that facilitates the movement of the workforce in accordance with market conditions.

Along with these benefits, the W classification would also have strict requirements to protect the U.S. workforce. For instance, employers who want to sponsor foreign workers for W visas would have to recruit any available American workers first. Employers would also have to pay the W visa worker either the same wage as they would pay a U.S. worker with similar experience or the “prevailing wage” for that job position, which is a wage that is calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Additional Numerical Restrictions

The amount of W visas issued will also be subject to an annual limit (similar to the popular H-1B visa). The Gang of 8 estimate that 20,000 W visas will be issued in the first year (which is projected to be 2015), then 35,000 in the second year, 55,000 in the third, and then 75,000 in the fourth. Starting in the fifth year, the annual cap for the W visa will be 200,000.

Creation of New Government Agency

Importantly, if the new W visa is created, the Gang of 8 will also create a new government agency called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Conditions (BILMC) which will be part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that adjudicates immigration petitions. Beginning in the W visa program’s fifth year, the BILMC will set the annual limit of the visas based upon a number of factors such as the current U.S. unemployment rate and the number of visas issued the previous year.

The Rant

The creation of the new W visa could present many foreign workers, who previously were not eligible for other temporary visas, with the opportunity to come to the U.S. and pursue lawful employment. However, the Gang of 8 may also impose heightened restrictions and requirements of the W visa, making it very difficult for U.S. employers to utilize this new classification. ImmigRantings will continue to keep our readers updated on the newest movements in comprehensive immigration reform. Check back with our blog frequently to stay informed on these critically important issues.

More Blog Posts:

Technology Entrepreneurs Call for Immigration Reform, ImmigRantings, March 5, 2013
Group of U.S. Senators Issues Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Immigration Laws, Promote Employment-Based Immigration, ImmigRantings, February 11, 2013
U.S. Senator Outlines Proposal to Increase Immigration for High-Tech Jobs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013