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Budget bill brings both relief and disappointment (or Congressional leadership is both naughty and nice*) - December 16, 2015

Congressional leaders worked late into the night Tuesday to reach agreement on the federal budget (or omnibus appropriations in Washington-speak).  Although the bill has not become law, passage is expected this week.


First, relief (“nice”):

  • They came to agreement.  Our selective memory helps us forget past government shut-downs, which did not bring holiday cheer to those wanting visas during the holidays.
  • No changes to the refugee, “sanctuary cities,” or “DACA” (deferred action for childhood arrivals) programs are included, despite vicious rhetoric.
  • The expiring immigration programs (EB5, Conrad 30, religious workers and E-Verify) were extended.
  • H-2B “returning workers” would not be counted against the H-2B “cap” (which helps meet shortages in seasonal labor)


Next, the disappointment (“naughty”):

  • The extension of the expiring programs (EB5, Conrad 30, religious workers and E-Verify) was for only one fiscal year (to September 30, 2016) and with no changes (more on this below).
  • The Visa Waiver Program, which has drawn attention as a potential security risk in light of recent events, was restricted with language that has been widely criticized as ill-considered. 
  • The “50/50” H-1B and L-1 user fee was doubled and applied to extension as well as initial petitions (this fee applies only to employers with 50 or more employees and where 50% of the employees hold H-1B or L-1 status).


Amendments to both the EB5 and Conrad 30 program had long been the subject of negotiations.


The EB5 program is the “million dollar investor/job creation” visa.  Some, like Sen. Grassley of Iowa, wanted to significantly increase the investment amount and otherwise restrict the program. Others wanted various changes to make the program more suited to economic development. 


The Conrad 30 program waives a requirement that foreign medical graduates who have received graduate medical education in the U.S. return to their home country for two years if they will work in a physician shortage area.  This program helps supply doctors to many underserved communities across Iowa and nationwide. Changes to the program had been proposed to make it more user-friendly and workable, given the dire need for medical providers, particularly in rural areas.


The short-term extension of these programs means that negotiations will continue through 2016.  For those of you who enjoy this sort of thing – and to everyone else reading this message – Happy Holidays!


(*See Santa Claus is Coming to Town lyrics)