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Despite Opposition, Immigration Reform Likely to Pass This Year

The introduction of the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate has spurred many conservative radio talk show hosts to agitate the American public to denounce the bill. They particularly harp on the proposed pathway to citizenship as “pure amnesty” and “nothing more than a reward” for illegal immigrants for breaking the law.

These talk show hosts also campaigned to help defeat the passage of a similar bill introduced during the Bush administration. The opposition was so intense in 2007 that the Senate immigration bill suffered a crushing defeat.

This time, however, the political atmosphere has changed and the strong opposition is no longer there. In fact, Sean Hannity who was one of the conservative talk show hosts who fiercely campaigned against immigration reform has changed his position along with some other conservatives. Republican opposition has also diminished as a result of the 2012 presidential elections.

The sentiment of the American public has also shifted, according to Michael Medved, another conservative radio talk show host who has always supported immigration reform. Based on a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 76% of Americans are for the creation of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented in the country.

While conservative radio talk show hosts has campaigned against the bill, evangelical Christians also launched their own drive to support immigration reform. It is interesting to note that most of them were also opposed to the immigration reform efforts in 2007.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that a number of Republican members of Congress are eyeing to delay the process and proposing “poison pill” amendments to defeat the bill. Senator Charles Grassley even tried at the first Judiciary Committee hearing to link the Boston Marathon bombings to the immigration debate.

But Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham as well as House Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan were quick to point out that the bombings should not slow down the bill. Rep. Paul Ryan said that, “If anything, what we see in Boston is that we have to fix and modernize our immigration system for lots of reasons.”

A number of Senate members have already joined forces to make sure the core provisions of the bill will remain unchanged. The Judiciary Committee expects to open the bill for amendments in early May.

Although most Republicans remain opposed to and are even seen to derail the passage of the bill when it reaches the House, a growing number of GOP members can no longer deny the need for immigration reform. One major group is comprised of Republican House members whose districts heavily rely on agriculture. They support the bill as it provides a workable guest worker program which addresses their chronic problem of worker shortages. Data shows that 17 of the top 20 farm districts are represented by Republicans.

Also, the bipartisan group of House members who themselves have been working on their own version of an immigration reform bill applauded the ‘Gang of Eight’ for its progress. They have also committed to continue on working on their version and are willing to reach a compromise.

If the bipartisan efforts of these members of Congress, both Senate and House, are any indication of the fate of the immigration reform bill, not to mention the growing support from the American public, a comprehensive immigration reform law may very well be in place before the year ends.

Bill to Grant Legal Status to Undocumented Immigrants

The immigration reform bill which a bipartisan group of senators has been working on for months was finally introduced on April 17. The proposed legislation which revamps the whole legal immigration system gives preference to job skills rather than family ties. Hearings have been scheduled in the Judiciary Committee and the Senate is expected to vote on it by early June.

The bill, entitled Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, provides for a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country after a ten-year wait. Although the pathway to citizenship is not tied to border security, the bill sets “triggers” whereby the undocumented can adjust status only when border security measures are fully operational.

The bill creates a merit-based program which will allow individuals, both in the U.S. and abroad, to earn points based on education, employment, length of stay in the U.S., among others, and the person with most points are granted their visas. Around 120,000 up to 250,000 visas would be issued each year using the point system. Benefiting from the program will be talented individuals, individuals in the worker programs and those with family in the U.S. The proposed legislation will eliminate the backlog for family and employment-based immigrants.

Also, the bill addresses the need for farm workers and low-wage laborers with the new nonimmigrant visa called the W-Visa. This will allow foreign workers to perform labor or services in the U.S. for a period of three years. The spouse and minor children may accompany the principal and are authorized to work. The annual cap will depend on the unemployment rate.

The annual number of H-1B visas will be increased from 65,000 to 110,000. The cap may even go up to 180,000 in the future depending on the demand and unemployment rate. Spouses of H-1B workers will be allowed to work if the sending country provides reciprocal treatment.

The bill eliminates a number of visa categories. For one, it eliminates the diversity visa or visa lottery. There will only be two family-based categories and they will include only unmarried adult children, married adult children under 31 and unmarried adult children of lawful permanent residents. Visas will no longer be available to siblings of U.S. citizens. But the child or spouse of a lawful permanent resident will be considered “immediate relative” and thus exempted from numerical limit.

Also exempted from the annual limits are the derivative beneficiaries of employment-based immigrants, aliens of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, multinational executives and managers, doctoral degree holders and certain physicians.

The pathway to citizenship laid out in the bill starts with an application for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” or RPI status. To be eligible, the undocumented must have been living in the United State prior to December 31, 2011 and must have been physically present in the U.S. since then. Application requirements include the payment of a $500 penalty fee, back taxes and processing fees.

Once granted the RPI status, noncitizens are considered lawfully present in the U.S. and can work and travel outside the country. They are however not qualified to receive Federal means-tested public benefits. The RPI status is valid for up to six years which is renewable upon proper application and payment of $500 penalty fee. To renew RPI status, the noncitizen must not have committed any act which would render him deportable.

The noncitizen under provisional immigrant status may adjust to lawful permanent resident status after ten years through the merit-based system. The young immigrants or the so-called Dreamers who were brought into this country illegally when they were still children and agricultural workers will be able to apply for their green cards after five years.

The noncitizen under provisional immigrant status must also demonstrate continuous physical presence in the U.S., payment of taxes, regular employment and knowledge of Civics and English to adjust status.

Pathway to Citizenship is Key to Genuine Immigration Reform

Providing a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country remains the most contentious issue in immigration reform. Republican Senator Ted Cruz even termed it the “poison pill” that will kill any efforts towards passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. He contended that even if the Senate passes the bill, he thinks that the House will never pass it.

The sentiment of Senator Ted Cruz reflects the stand of the majority of his Republican base. According to him, the only way that a comprehensive immigration reform bill can pass the House is to abandon the ‘path to citizenship’ for the undocumented immigrant. It should focus instead on securing the border and streamlining the immigration process.

Meanwhile, support for providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers in the country is growing with 6 out of 10 Americans supporting it based on a recent Washington Post-ABC poll. Democratic support reached an all-time high of 73 percent.

The support within the Republican Party, however, remains low. The support is so low among Republicans that some say Senator Marc Rubio’s involvement in the immigration reform deal might hurt his chances of becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2016.

According to political observers, the chances that Senator Rubio will walk away from the reform legislation proposed by the ‘Gang of Eight’ which is composed of four Democratic and four Republican Senators is slim. Although Senator Rubio’s support to provide a path to citizenship may cost him the ire of primary Republican voters, his involvement is seen to win back support of Latino voters who withdrew support for the GOP for its anti-immigrant position.

Recently, the ‘Gang of Eight’ announced that it has completed its comprehensive immigration reform bill. A bipartisan group in the House is also preparing its own version of the bill. Both House and Senate immigration plans offer a path to citizenship.

The House version is said to provide three paths to citizenship. One path is offered to young immigrants or the so-called Dreamers who were brought into this country illegally when they were still children and agricultural workers who play a critical role in the economy.

The second path is offered to immigrants who entered the country illegally but whose family ties or employment relationships allow them to apply for legal status. The barrier including the three to ten year ban will be waived or lifted. They will be required to return to their home countries to apply for legal status and comply with other requirements.

The third path is offered to all other undocumented immigrants who may apply for “provisional legal status” so long as they have not committed any crime and they comply with requirements such as they payment of fines and learning English. Under the House version, it is said that the undocumented immigrants will have to wait ten years to be issued their green cards and wait another five years to apply for citizenship.

In order to fix the broken immigration system, the dilemma facing 11 million undocumented immigrants has to be addressed. Indeed, the pathway to citizenship, no matter how long or difficult, is essential to genuine immigration reform. This is the reality that the GOP-run House has to contend with unless they want a remake of the 2012 presidential elections in 2016.

Crackdown on H-1B Visa Fraud

Employers engaging in work visa fraud do not only face administrative penalties but also imprisonment if convicted.

An owner of a tech staffing company in New Jersey faced 6 months prison sentence and $50,000 fine for filing H-1B petitions for ineligible foreign workers and running fake payrolls. Another company owner in Iowa also faced a three year prison sentence for submitting H-1B petitions containing false statements about the beneficiaries’ jobs and work locations.

Various fraudulent schemes have been employed by employers who abuse the H-1B program. However, with the government crackdown on work visa fraud, the number of criminal convictions has also increased.

Last month, the owners of Dibon Solutions, an information technology consulting company, were indicted for multiple counts of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and wire fraud. The company operated like a staffing company which provided third-party companies the services of inexpensive foreign workers with computer expertise on an “as needed” basis.

Under this scheme, Dibon Solutions sponsored foreign workers for H-1B visa stating that the foreign workers will work for their company. In reality, Dibon did not require the services of the foreign workers. Instead, it hired these foreign workers to provide consulting services to third-party companies.

The scheme is lucrative business for both the employer and the third party companies as the employer profits by charging high hourly rates for consultancy services. Third party companies, on the other hand, save money because they do not pay workers when their services are not needed.

This is extremely unfair to the foreign workers who are generally paid only when they are placed at a third-party company. Worse, the workers do not usually get paid unless the third-party company pays their employer.

The nonproductive status of workers due to a decision of the employer is termed as “benching” by the Department of Labor. Employers are required by law to pay the foreign workers even if they are in a nonproductive status. These foreign workers, however, are not paid and are encouraged to find third party companies themselves.

The H-1B process starts with the filing of the Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the Department of Labor. The employer is required to state basic information about the proposed employment such as rate of pay, period of employment and work locations. The employer also makes several attestations. If the LCA contains false information, the LCA would be fraudulent.

Recently, the president of iFuturistics, an Indian national from North Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate U.S. laws by filing fraudulent immigration documents following an investigation. He had received a total of $13.2 million in payment from staffing companies. Records showed that he tried to cover his fraudulent scheme during an inspection visit by moving in furniture and setting up work stations.

Among the charges that may be filed against an employer for committing work visa fraud include conspiracy to violate United State laws, which carries a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine and presenting fraudulent immigration documents, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and $250,000 fine. Available remedies against the employer include restitution to victims of the fraudulent act. Also, properties, real and personal, used in the perpetration of the crime will be forfeited to the government.

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