For the fifth year in a row, the cap for H-1B visa applications was reached within five days. Some people in Maryland might be familiar with H-1B as the visa that allows workers to be temporarily employed in certain high-demand fields. The limit in 2017, as mandated by Congress, is 85,000 visas.
People who are living and working on a H-1B visa in Maryland may be facing additional restrictions regarding their family members. In 2015, the Obama administration introduced a rule that would allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work if they were waiting for green cards. These spouses have H-4 dependent visas. However, the rule is facing a court challenge, and the Department of Justice has asked to be given until April 2 to consider the issue.
No matter what happens with immigration practices and strategies following the general election in November 2016, Maryland employers will still be required to use Form I-9 to verify the identity and authorization of an immigrant employee to work in the United States. This is a requirement for all workers despite their citizenship, immigration status or national origin.
When a Maryland company is in the process of acquiring or merging with another firm, it is important for the owner to do his or her due diligence before closing the deal regarding any potential immigration issues. Failing to do so may leave the company facing substantial financial penalties or losing key employees following the transaction.
Immigrants in Maryland are often exposed to workplace discrimination in the form of unfair requests for documentation when they seek employment. In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice proposed some new rules concerning unfair documentary practices that could make it more difficult for employers to discriminate against immigrants. The DOJ wants part of Section 274(a)(6) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to be incorporated into the Code of Federal Regulations.
In a case that may be of interest to Maryland employers and employees alike, a Department of Labor administrative law judge has ruled that employers cannot use financial hardship to avoid paying employees with H-1B nonimmigrant visa status the wage specified to the federal government. The judge said foreign nationals must be paid the wage indicated on the Labor Condition Application certified by the DOL.
Universities in Maryland and nationwide could be using a legal loophole to obtain H-1B visas for foreign students, circumventing a federal lottery system that caps the annual number of such visas available. College officials say exploiting the loophole fixes a flawed immigration system, but critics counter the practice goes against the spirit of federal law.
Immigrant advocacy groups in Maryland and around the country were disappointed on June 23 when a U.S. Supreme Court vote placed the Obama administration's plans to grant temporary legal status to thousands of immigrants on hold. If the plan had been implemented, illegal immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens would have been permitted to seek work permits. With the Obama plan off the table, some immigrant groups are pushing for action on the state level similar to that taken by California lawmakers in 2014.
Some immigrants come to states like Maryland on H-2B guest worker visas. The program allows a maximum three-year stay in the United States for foreign nationals who are willing to work low-wage jobs in certain industries. Federal lawmakers are currently working to expand the H-2B program so that businesses can hire more foreign workers.