The 113th Congress is considering legislation that would make extensive revisions to nonimmigrant categories for professional specialty workers (H-1B visas). The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” or S.744, as passed by the Senate on June 27, 2013, would substantially revise the H-1B visa category by increasing the annual H-1B visa cap for highly skilled workers from 65,000 to 110,000 per year and by increasing the H1B cap for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) visas from 20,000 to 25,000 per year. In total, there would be 135,000 H-1B visas available the first year that the law is enacted. Because immigration reform legislation has not yet been passed, however, there are only 85,000 H-1B visas available for FY 2015.
The H-1B visa program applies to employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability. A “specialty occupation” is one that requires the application of a body of highly-specialized knowledge and the attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. “Specialty occupations” include but are not limited to positions in biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts. The intent of the H-1B visa provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the U.S.