Seguritan US Immigration Articles

Immigration Bill Moves to Senate Floor but House Has No Bill Yet

After five long days of markup, Senate Bill 744, properly known as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, was approved last May 21 by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 13-5.

There were about 300 amendments filed. Senator Grassley, a Republican, had 77 and Senator Sessions, also a Republican, had 59. In the end, a number of significant amendments were approved but the core provisions of the bill remained intact. It now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote by the entire Senate.

Among the amendments that were approved were provisions intended to keep families together such as Hirono Amendment 1 introduced by Democratic Senator of Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, to exempt children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitation, and Hirono Amendment 23 that would require the Department of Homeland Security to take into consideration the humanitarian needs of family members during removal proceedings at the border.

Senator Hirono also succeeded in pushing amendments that would make DREAM Act students eligible for federal financial aid, protect children from trafficking, and allow applicant for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status to pay application fees and penalties in installments. But her proposal to allow U.S. citizens suffering extreme hardship to petition for their adult sons and daughters or siblings was voted down.

Senator Blumenthal’s amendment to allow the naturalization of DREAMers serving in the Armed Forces was approved but his proposal to move the physical presence requirement for RPI eligibility from December 31, 2011 to April 17, 2013 was withdrawn.

As to employment-based immigration, the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment of the W visa program allowing the foreign workers to change employers without losing their immigration status. Moreover, the annual number of H-1B visa was increased from 110,000 in the original bill to 115,000. The amendment further adopts a new formula that will allow a quota increase of 5,000 to 20,000 within a fiscal year. This will depend on the demand and unemployment rate for managerial, professional and related occupations.

The final bill also clarifies that I-140 or employment-based immigrant petitions would remain valid so long as the beneficiary has a new job in the same or similar classification. The amendment adopted also allows adjustment applications to be filed concurrently with immigrant petitions even if the visa number is not yet available for a supplemental fee of $500.

The bill will still be subject to deliberation and amendments in the Senate floor. The Senate will need 60 votes to successfully move the bill to the House of Representatives. No bill has been introduced in the House yet but once a House bill is passed, the Senate bill will be reconciled with the House version. A group of bipartisan members in the House are expected to release their own version of the bill in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, some 150 conservative leaders have sent an open letter to members of the Senate urging them to vote against the bill. They are now campaigning to get support from the public particularly harping on the proposed pathway to citizenship as “immediate amnesty” which only rewards lawbreakers.

Also, a group of conservatives in the House who are not in favor of the comprehensive approach are already introducing individual bills dealing with specific aspects of immigration. Many consider the comprehensive immigration bill as the only way that the proposed pathway to citizenship for the undocumented can pass. The “piecemeal approach” employed by the conservatives is seen not as a means to subvert immigration reform but as a means to kill the proposed pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

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.

Scroll To Top