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.