Spending Bill Includes Extension of Several Immigration Programs19 Dec 2016
On Saturday, December 10, 2016, President Obama signed into law a continuing resolution designed to fund the federal government through April 28, 2017. Included in the spending bill were various immigration provisions, including an extension of the employment-based, fifth preference (EB5) regional center program, the employment-based, fourth preference (EB4) category for non-minister religious workers, and the Conrad 30 waiver program for J-1 physicians.
Continuing Resolution Bill
Funding for most non-critical federal functions was scheduled to expire on Friday, December 9, 2016. Because a number of immigration programs, such as the EB5 regional center program, have been extended in recent years through federal funding bills, these programs were scheduled to expire, as well. The bill signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2016, served to extend federal funding through April 28, 2017, along with a barrage of other federal programs, including several immigration benefits.
EB5 Regional Center Program
The regional center program is a key part of the EB5 immigrant investor category. There has been a great deal of discussion in recent years about amending the program to, among other things, increase the minimum investment required to qualify under the EB5 program. Many speculated that such an increase would occur alongside an extension of the regional center program. Despite all this talk, however, no changes were made to the EB5 program. This means that the minimum investment required remains $1,000,000, or $500,000 if the investment is made in a targeted employment area (TEA), i.e. a rural area or area with high unemployment.
EB4 Non-Minister Religious Worker Program Extension
The EB4 special immigrant category includes religious workers, who are divided into two subcategories: ministers and non-minsters. The subcategory for ministers does not have an expiration date, so only the non-ministers subcategory had to be extended. EB4 for non-ministers may include positions such as a missionary or a religious teacher. This program is important for religious organizations in the United States, as many of them rely on EB4 immigrants to perform important religious duties.
Conrad 30 Waiver Program
Many international medical graduates (IMGs) who wish to receive graduate medical training in the United States use the J-1 exchange visitor program. Those IMGs who participate in this program, however, are subject to a two-year home-residence requirement. This means that, following completion of the training, IMGs must return to their respective home countries for two years before they can apply for H or L visas, or for permanent residence (i.e. a “green card”). Such persons are also generally not allowed to file for any change of status within the United States. This requirement is intended to benefit the home countries by returning qualified physicians to practice there.
Physicians who do not wish to comply with the two-year return requirement may be able to obtain waivers forgiving the requirement. Such J-1 physicians are not eligible for the most common waiver of the home residence requirement – the waiver based on no objection by the home country government. They typically, therefore, utilize an interested government agency waiver, including the Conrad 30 waiver program.
The Conrad 30 program permits J-1 physicians to receive waivers of the home residence requirement if they agree to practice for three years in a geographic area in the United States that is medically underserved. Each U.S. state is allocated 30 waiver slots per year to distribute to physicians who apply to relevant state agencies. The extension of the Conrad 30 program will permit many foreign physicians, who enter the United States in J-1 status before the new expiration date of April 28, 2017, to apply for waivers based on work in medically underserved areas. This is important both to individual physicians, and to the U.S. healthcare system as a whole.
While it is a relief to see these programs extended, it is unfortunate the extension was not for a longer period. Still, this extension hopefully will provide sufficient time to Congress to negotiate for a more long-term extension of these valuable programs.
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