H-1B visa updates: New work authorization, Green Cards, and fee hikes

Expat news
  • H1B visa
Published on 2024-02-27 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Major changes are on the horizon for the widely-used H-1B visa, with potential impacts on other visa categories. Additionally, significant hikes in visa fees are expected, posing a substantial consideration for those planning to relocate to the United States. Here's what you need to know.

H-1B visa, H-4 visa and automatic work authorization

The announcement, made on February 3, 2024, indicates that under a new National Security Agreement, around 100,000 work authorizations will be issued to the spouses and children of foreign H-1B visa holders (spouses and children hold H-4 visas). These work permits will be granted automatically.

The agreement will positively impact around 250,000 young adults who are the children of expatriates legally residing in the country. Despite having a legal status and having spent most of their lives in the United States, these young adults are threatened by deportation. They are grouped with newly arrived international students and must go through multiple visa processes (F-1 for studying, B-2 for temporary stay while waiting for the F-1 visa, H-1B for employment, etc.) to remain in the country. The bill will enable them to stay in the United States with work authorization.

Green Card processing times remain excessively long

Obtaining a Green Card (permanent residency) remains a significant challenge, but with various avenues available. These include family sponsorship through an American citizen, marriage to an American citizen or permanent resident, investment, the diversity visa lottery, or through employment.

Holders of the highly sought-after H-1B visa, designated for specialized professionals on temporary work assignments, can apply for a Green Card. However, the increasingly long processing times have become a significant hurdle for foreign workers, particularly impacting Indian expats. With estimated wait times ranging from 40 to over 80 months, mainly due to visa caps and backlogs, the situation adds to the uncertainty faced by these workers. The authorization issued on February 3, 2024, allows the spouses and children of H-1B visa holders to legally work in the United States, reflecting the Biden administration's commitment to reforming the immigration system. This initiative aims to ensure fair and compassionate treatment for all individuals, promote legal immigration, and enhance border security.

Other changes in the bill

Apart from granting automatic work authorization to spouses and children of H-1B visa holders, the bill also establishes child protection measures. Children of H-1B visa holders with long-term stays will retain their own visa (H-4) for up to 8 years.

The reform bill introduces an additional 18,000 Green Cards annually for the next 5 years. These Green Cards will be allocated based on employment, with quotas established for each state. This measure will result in a total of 158,000 employment-based Green Cards issued annually over the next 5 years.

The changes also impact fiancés of US nationals (K-1 visa holders) and their children (K-2 visa holders). Approximately 25,000 individuals holding temporary K-1, K-2, and K-3 (marriage) visas will now be able to work without any waiting period.

Automatic work authorization is also expanded to include eligible asylum seekers. Currently, these individuals have to wait an additional 180 days before they are permitted to work. The reform aims to alleviate the uncertainty faced by asylum seekers and their families, thus ending their precarious situation.

The bill introduces 250,000 immigrant visas over 5 years, prioritizing family reunification and aiming to streamline recruitment for businesses.

The White House has called on Congress to adopt these new provisions swiftly.

Hike in H-1B and L-1 visa fees

Visa fees are rising once again. Following the December 2016 increase, employers and foreign workers should expect significant fee hikes starting in April 2024. The cost of the H-1B visa will jump to $780 from the current $460, marking a 70% increase. Meanwhile, the L-1 visa, used for intra-company transfers of foreign workers, will see an even steeper rise to $1,385 from the current $460, a whopping 201% increase. Additionally, the cost of entering the H-1B visa lottery will skyrocket for foreign applicants, reaching $245 instead of the current $10, marking a staggering 2050% increase. The only silver lining for applicants is time, as the measure won't take effect until 2025. The fee hike also affects other visa categories, such as investor visas like EB-5, which should expect an average increase of 200%.

The reform is causing concern among foreign talent and companies, particularly those in the tech industry, which heavily relies on recruiting H-1B visa holders. Despite recent layoffs (including thousands of job cuts at Google, eBay, and hundreds at Amazon, Discord, Twitch, and TikTok), the sector continues hiring, driven by the rapid development of AI (Artificial Intelligence). While the quota system remains a considerable obstacle to hiring foreign talent, the increasing costs further complicate recruitment efforts. Many talented individuals, particularly Indian professionals working in the IT sector on H-1B visas, are apprehensive as rising costs pose a new financial burden. Critics argue that the escalating visa expenses negatively impact diversity, international mobility, and innovation.

Responses to the visa reform

The US administration considers them expatriates despite having lived in the country since childhood. In November 2023, Global Indian shared the story of Pareen Mhatre, who is grappling with the challenge of obtaining permanent status in the United States. Arriving in the country at just 4 months old, she never anticipated facing the same hurdles as other prospective expatriates. She doesn't perceive herself as a foreigner; instead, she identifies as an American.

Accompanied by her parents, who arrived in the United States on long-term visas, she has faced the challenges posed by an American administration that has sidelined over 200,000 children of legal immigrants. "I've been living in constant fear for the past five years," she explains during a congressional hearing in the House of Representatives in 2021. Pareen is advocating not just for herself but also for thousands of others who have been excluded from the system despite their legal status. The government's proposed reform is specifically crafted to address the needs of young adults like Pareen Mhatre.

On another front, there's a collective sigh among prospective expatriates and disheartened expats. Those holding the coveted H-1B visa are particularly tuned into these recent developments. For some, it feels like a direct assault on legal immigration, leaving them perplexed by the government's latest tightening measures. While the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) justifies this fee hike with an unprecedented increase in its costs, similar reasoning was given back in 2016. However, for foreign workers, this justification is hard to accept.