Hike in visa fees, cuts in family visa categories being pondered by Senators

Bipartisan group tries to hammer out immigration reform.

Bureau Report

WASHINGTON, DC: A bipartisan group of senators is weighing higher visa fees and fines to offset the cost of overhauling immigration laws, two approaches that could spark a backlash from businesses and immigration advocates.

Certain provisions in the immigration bill, which the senators expect to unveil in early April, likely won’t be cheap. The framework calls for additional border security, a system to track people when they enter and exit the U.S. on visas and improved employment-verification systems, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Those involved in the Senate discussions say there are two clear places to find revenue: Higher visa fees from businesses that want to bring highly skilled workers to the U.S. and fines on undocumented immigrants now in the country who choose to pursue legal status. However, such an approach could spark a backlash from businesses and immigration advocates.

The Senate effort is expected to make more visas available to companies that want to bring skilled workers to the U.S. It now costs between $1,575 and $5,550 in fees to obtain the most popular of those visas, the H-1B visa, and that’s before taking to account the fees companies pay lawyers to file the applications, said the Journal.

Another controversial measure that may come up in the overhaul is the likelihood of some family visa categories being eliminated.

According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., – one of eight senators in a bipartisan group negotiating immigration reform – family visas should be limited to spouses and minor children, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was unclear how many of the senators working with Graham on the bill agree with his position.

“There is no final agreement yet, so I’d caution you to not read too much into reports about what may or may not have been agreed to,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another member of the group.

Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., called family reunification a “line in the sand”. He said ending family preferences would affect Asian immigrants more than others and “would cause tremendous hardship and heartache for thousands of U.S. citizens and their loved ones.”

According to reports, if the measures come into effect it will reduce by some 90,000 family visas and will limit the ability of US citizens to petition relatives.

Reports say the senators’ framework for comprehensive immigration reform of “attracting the best and the brightest,” is more inclined to increase the allocation of visas for the employment-based category by reducing the number available for family, thus maintaining the total worldwide visa quota.

The Immigration and Nationality Act specifically provides an annual cap of 226,000 in the family-based category and about 154,000 in the employment-based preferences.

The senators’ proposal is based on the assumption that the total number of visas available should not exceed what is provided for by existing law. So, instead of issuing more, visas are simply going to be reallocated.

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