News November 23, 2004

H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004

In the final hours of the 108th Congress, the Senate and House agreed on a bill that once again changes the H-1B visa program. President Bush is expected to sign the bill in early December. The H-1B program brings professional workers to the U.S. for positions requiring at least a bachelor's degree in a field of study related to the job duties. Department of Labor H-1B regulations require employers to pay the "prevailing wage".

The bill raises the current annual allotment of 65,000 H-1B visas by adding an additional 20,000 visas reserved for workers who have attained a graduate degree from a U.S. institution of higher education. The bill restores requirements for employers who employ a significant number of H-1B workers to prove that they are not displacing a U.S. worker. The application fee will increase to $1,500, although businesses employing not more than 25 full-time equivalent employees will pay half of the fee amount ($750.00). Previously, the law required employers to pay a $1,000 fee. In addition, a new $500 fee will apply to all petitions seeking first-time employment or a change of status from another nonimmigrant classification.

Employers will be required to pay H-1B workers 100% rather than 95% of the prevailing wage. In determining the appropriate prevailing wage, the Department of Labor will be required to provide at least four levels of experience rather than the two now offered.


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