Work Visa Rules See Changes


Work Visa Rules See Changes

On the same day that President Donald Trump visited the Rio Grande Valley to drum up support for a border wall, a group of business people gathered to learn about immigration issues facing workers and employers.

“It’s really hard to keep up. Changes are occurring on an almost daily basis and the changes are affecting immigrants and employers,” said immigration attorney Belia A. Pena, who presented the workshop sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The immigrant workers Pena was talking about mostly consist of highly skilled professionals. “We get the best of the best from all over the world.” For example, the rapidly expanding health care industry in the Valley is a market that attracts a large number of immigrants. “In the Valley we have a lot of foreign-born doctors. They are coming from India, Cuba, Mexico and many other countries.”

Quotas for temporary specialty work visas were capped at 65,000 for the 2019 fiscal year and that limit has already been reached, with many of the visa applications under review being filed in previous years. “There is a backlog,” Pena said. “Applications from 2016 and 2017 are now being processed.”

Frequent changes in federal rules and regulations governing immigrant worker visa applications can make it difficult to navigate an application process that already is complex, time-consuming and expensive, Pena said. Visa application filing fees alone can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.

As an immigration attorney, much of Pena’s practice is devoted to helping people get through the process. Lawyers can help individuals establish evidence of eligibility, whether they will need a sponsor and ensure they have all the documentation they need to apply. A variety of visa types for different circumstances are available for foreign workers that are basically categorized in one of two ways. Those that are called non-immigrants are people from other countries wanting to enter the United States to work temporarily and who plan to return to their home country. Individuals categorized as immigrants are seeking a more permanent visa and possible path to citizenship.

For employers to hire an immigrant, the most important thing is to verify the individual’s identity. Recruiters are not allowed to ask if the person is a U.S. citizen or if they have a green card. A Social Security card or a federal taxpayer ID number or certain documents from the immigrant’s native land can be sufficient to meet that requirement. “Everybody has a form of ID, even if it’s from their native country,” said Alejandro Guerra, an immigration attorney present at the workshop. “All you have to do is prove they are who they say they are.”


George Cox is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years experience as a newspaper writer and editor. A Corpus Christi native, he started his career as a reporter for The Brownsville Herald after graduating from Sam Houston State University with a degree in journalism. He later worked on newspapers in Laredo and Corpus Christi as well as northern California. George returned to the Valley in 1996 as editor of The Brownsville Herald and in 2001 moved to Harlingen as editor of the Valley Morning Star. He also held the position of editor and general manager for the Coastal Current, a weekly entertainment magazine with Valleywide distribution. George retired from full-time journalism in 2015 to work as a freelance writer and legal document editor. He continues to live in Harlingen where he and his wife Katherine co-founded Rio Grande Valley Therapy Pets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the benefits of therapy pets and assisting people and their pets to become registered therapy pet teams.