Congress Passes Legislation Affecting Visa Waiver Program
Certain key provisions of the omnibus spending bill will affect travel without visas, e-Passport requirements, EB-5 investors, and H-1B and L-1 “dependent” employers.
Included in the omnibus spending bill, which the US Congress passed on Friday and now heads to the White House for signature, are several key provisions that affect the immigrant and nonimmigrant community. Chief among these are provisions to impose stricter security requirements on Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers; require “e-Passports” of all VWP travelers; reauthorize the EB-5 Regional Center and E-Verify programs through September 30, 2016; and raise the filing fees for certain H-1B and L-1 visa petitions.
Changes to Visa Waiver Program
The funding bill includes H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which the House passed on December 8. This bill includes more restrictive passport requirements and other security standards for the VWP. Nationals of certain countries and travelers who, since March 2011, have traveled to Iraq or Syria, any other country designated by the secretary of state as a state sponsor of terrorism (e.g., Iran and Sudan), or any other country designated as a country or “area of concern” would be barred from using the VWP. Such travelers would be required to appear for a personal interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a US consulate overseas before traveling to the United States for business or tourism. Those who traveled to a country of concern in the course of military or government service on behalf of a VWP member country would be exempted from this requirement.
Additionally, the bill requires all VWP travelers to present an e-Passport with a biometric-enabled chip by April 1, 2016. The bill also requires all VWP countries to put in place mechanisms to validate these e-Passports by October 1, 2016. VWP travelers who do not currently hold an e-Passport will need to apply for a new passport to meet this requirement. This may significantly affect all travel to the United States by nationals of any VWP country.
EB-5 Regional Center Program and E-Verify
The bill reauthorizes the EB-5 Regional Center Program through September 30, 2016, with no significant changes. Current EB-5 investment requirements will remain in place for another year. The E-Verify program has also been extended through September 2016.
H-1B and L-1 “Dependent” Fees
The bill doubled the filing fee for companies that have at least 50 employees with 50% of them holding H-1B or L-1 status. Such companies would have to pay a new fee of $4,000 for H-1B visa petitions and $4,500 for L-1 visa petitions and/or “blanket” L applications at a US consulate.