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A Giant Step Towards Immigration Reform

After years on the back burner, immigration reform is now one of the top priorities of Congress. What used to be the subject of political gridlock has brought influential members from both parties in the Senate to come together and come up with a framework for comprehensive immigration reform, one which seeks to provide a permanent fix to the present broken immigration system.

The proposed reform will allow most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to gain lawful status which will ultimately create for them “a path to citizenship.” This is, however, conditioned on the government’s success in securing its borders and the effective implementation of a system for tracking temporary visitors.

Measures to secure the border include intensifying efforts of the Border Patrol and increasing unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance equipment. A commission will be created which will determine whether the border is already secure. The government will start issuing green cards to undocumented immigrants only when the border is secure and a system ensuring that people on temporary visas leave the country when required is already in place.

Meantime, under the plan, undocumented immigrants will be required to register with the government. Before they can be granted “probationary legal status” that will allow them to live and work legally, undocumented immigrants will have to go through a background check and pay a fine. They will also be required to pay back taxes. Once they are granted probationary legal status, they may apply for their green cards.

Undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes and are a threat to national security will not benefit from the program and may be subject to deportation.

Applying for lawful permanent residence will require the undocumented immigrant to go through another background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics and comply with other requirements. However, unless every intending immigrant who went through the legal process and are currently waiting in line are issued their green cards, no undocumented immigrant may be issued a green card. Less stringent rules will apply to childhood arrivals and agricultural workers.

The plan seeks to significantly reduce the wait time for family and employment immigrant visas. It will allow foreign nationals receiving advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from U.S. universities to obtain green cards. It puts strong emphasis on an effective employment verification system.

In order to address the agricultural needs of the country, the proposed reform will create a program which will allow farm workers to enter the country and take on jobs which Americans are unwilling to fill. It also recognizes the need of businesses for lower-skilled workers allowing them to recruit immigrant workers while protecting its own labor force.

The bipartisan framework is said to be consistent for the most part with President Obama’s immigration plan. Although differing in some major points with President Obama’s plan and more heated debates expected in Congress, this is seen by many as a good start. With the President’s support of the bipartisan efforts of these senators, a comprehensive immigration reform may be realized sooner than we think.

Republican Bill to Give Temporary Visa to Families of LPRs

Filipinos and Latinos would benefit from a Republican-sponsored immigration bill that would give temporary visas to spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPR).

Known as the STEM Jobs Act, the proposed legislation would provide 55,000 additional green cards a year to foreign nationals receiving advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) The bill is seen as the Republican Party’s way of showing that they are serious about immigration reform.

Last September 20, the STEM bill was already taken up in the House of Representatives. It failed to pass even though it received the majority votes of the members because the procedure used required a two-thirds vote.

Democrats opposed the bill because it would eliminate the 55,000 green cards allotted each year under the Diversity Visa Lottery program. These green cards are given by lottery to qualified immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The proposed bill, in effect, does not increase the total number of visas issued each year.

This time, the Republicans made the bill more appealing by adding a provision which will allow the spouses and minor children of LPRs to enter the U.S. while they wait for their own green cards. They will enter the U.S. under a temporary visa. Although they will not be able to work until they obtain their green cards, this will allow them to be reunited with their families while they wait.

At present, spouses and minor children of LPRs will have to wait over two years before they can be issued their green cards. Those who are receiving their green cards today are those who were petitioned prior to August 22, 2010.

The backlog has approximately 322,000 spouses and children of LPRs waiting for their immigrant visas. The bill would allow LPRs to be reunited with their families in the U.S. one year after they file I-130 petitions on their behalf.

Whether the Senate will support the bills remains to be seen. The provision on temporary visas for immediate families of LPRs may draw some support; however, it is clear that Democrats remain opposed to the elimination of the diversity visa program and seek to increase the number of visas.

The Democrats have introduced a version of their own STEM bill which has not been taken up in the House. Like the Republican-version, the proposed bill provides for additional green cards for STEM graduates; however, it retains the Diversity Visa Lottery program. Their proposal also includes utilizing unused visa numbers for STEM graduates to make up for backlogs in the employment-based categories.

Although the STEM bill is not a major fix to a broken immigration system, it will expand visas for STEM graduates and allow families to reunite. More importantly, passing this GOP immigration bill is a tell-tale sign that immigration reform is already in the works.

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