House Advances Bipartisan Tax Package. On January 31, 2024, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R. 7024) by a vote of 357–70. The bill combines an expansion of the child tax credit with business-friendly tax provisions, and would pay for this, in part, by terminating the CARES Act Employee Retention Credit (ERC) program. While the overwhelming vote in the House might portend easy passage in the U.S. Senate, this might not necessarily be the case. In addition to the usual political negotiations, the Senate is preoccupied with legislation relating to the southern border and foreign aid, federal government funding, and a potential impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The Buzz will be monitoring the bill’s progress in the Senate as these debates unfold.
Fed Contractors: Salary History Ban, Pay Posting Requirement Proposed. On January 30, 2024, the administration published a notice of proposed rulemaking on “Pay Equity and Transparency in Federal Contracting.” The proposed rule would:
“(1) prohibit contractors and subcontractors from seeking and considering information about job applicants’ compensation history when making employment decisions about personnel working on or in connection with a government contract; and
(2) require contractors and subcontractors to disclose, in all advertisements for job openings involving work on or in connection with a government contract placed by or on behalf of the contractor or subcontractor, the compensation to be offered to the hired applicant, for any position to perform work on or in connection with the contract.”
The proposed changes would be “applicable to acquisitions at or below the SAT [simplified acquisition threshold] and to acquisitions for commercial products and commercial services, including COTS [commercially available off-the-shelf] items.” The proposal would instruct potentially aggrieved applicants to file complaints with the “central collection point of the agency that issued the solicitation or awarded the contract or order” and would provide that following investigation of such a complaint, the contracting agency may “take action as appropriate.” Comments are due on or before April 1, 2024. Leigh M. Nason and Cameron W. Ellis have the details.
USCIS Issues Final Rule on Increased Fees. On January 31, 2024, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a final rule that increases the fees it charges for processing certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests. As just one example, the rule increases registration fees for H-1B visas from $10 to $215. USCIS has also created a frequently asked questions (FAQ) guidance page on the fee increase rule. USCIS last amended its fee schedule in 2016. The rule becomes effective on April 1, 2024. Jennifer M. Cofer has the details.
USCIS Issues Final Rule on H-1B Modernization. On February 2, 2024, USCIS issued a final rule entitled “Improving the H-1B Registration Selection Process and Program Integrity.” According to a press release accompanying the rule, it is intended “to strengthen the integrity of and reduce the potential for fraud in the H-1B registration process.” Accordingly, the rule only implements certain proposals from the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking, “Modernizing H-1B Requirements, Providing Flexibility in the F-1 Program, and Program Improvements Affecting Other Nonimmigrant Workers.” Those remaining provisions are being reviewed and can be expected to be finalized in the future.
The final rule focuses on the beneficiary-centric selection procedure for H-1B visa holders, which will work as follows:
“Each unique beneficiary who has a registration submitted on their behalf will be entered into the selection process once, regardless of how many registrations are submitted on their behalf. If a beneficiary is selected, each registrant that submitted a registration on that beneficiary’s behalf will be notified of the beneficiary’s selection and will be eligible to file a petition on that beneficiary’s behalf during the applicable petition filing period.”
The final rule also provides USCIS with new tools to combat fraud in the H-1B program, such as clarifying the agency’s ability to deny or revoke the H-1B petition if statements contained in the underlying paperwork “were inaccurate, fraudulent, or misrepresented a material fact.” The new system will be in effect for the fiscal year (FY) 2025 H-1B cap season, and registration will be open from March 6, 2024, to 12:00 p.m. on March 22, 2024. Geeta M. Shah has the details.
EEOC to Increase Outreach to Vulnerable Workers. On January 29, 2024, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched its REACH initiative, which “is focused on enhancing the agency’s outreach to vulnerable workers and underserved communities.” The REACH Initiative builds on the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2024–2028 (SEP), which prioritizes “protecting vulnerable workers and persons from underserved communities from employment discrimination.” According to the SEP, “the Commission views the category of vulnerable workers as including: immigrant and migrant workers and workers on temporary visas; people with developmental or intellectual disabilities; workers with mental health related disabilities; individuals with arrest or conviction records; LGBTQI+ individuals; temporary workers; older workers; individuals employed in low wage jobs, including teenage workers employed in such jobs; survivors of gender-based violence; Native Americans/Alaska Natives; and persons with limited literacy or English proficiency.” The REACH initiative is being led by Commissioner Kalpana Kotagal, who will be a keynote speaker at Ogletree Deakins’ 2024 National Workplace Strategies Seminar in Washington, D.C., from May 1–4, 2024.
Senators Introduce Bipartisan Paid Leave Bill. Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced legislation to encourage more employers to offer paid family and medical leave to their employees. Currently, pursuant to a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employers may take a tax credit when they provide employees with up to twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave. This provision is set to expire in 2025. The new bill, called the Paid Family and Medical Leave Tax Credit Extension and Enhancement Act, would make this existing business tax credit for employers permanent. The bill is separate from the “four pillar” framework concept the Buzz discussed recently.
Impeaching Cabinet Members. As alluded to above, earlier this week, the House Homeland Security Committee voted 18–15 to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The House could vote on the articles of impeachment sometime next week. If Mayorkas is impeached, he will make history as only the second cabinet member to be impeached. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war, William W. Belknap, was impeached for setting up a scheme to receive kickbacks from private trading posts that sold goods at U.S. military forts on the western frontier. Belknap resigned his position before he was impeached, but the House determined that they could move ahead with impeaching a private citizen. During the Senate trial, Colonel George A. Custer testified that traders sent a portion of their profits to Belknap. Despite this and other witness testimony, the Senate fell short of the two-thirds vote needed for conviction, and Belknap was acquitted. On the day of his acquittal, a grand jury in Washington, D.C., indicted Belknap for his role in the kickback scheme. After pressure from President Grant, the case against Belknap was dismissed by Justice Arthur MacArthur Sr., grandfather of General Douglas MacArthur.