After months of intense negotiation, Senator Chuck Schumer filed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate in the wee hours of April 17, 2013. The bill, S.744, represents the most ambitious reform of the American immigration system in over 30 years. It contains numerous provisions that could significantly impact U.S. employers and the labor force as a whole. Some of the proposals are:
· Enhanced border security at high-risk border segments, including major appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security to increase staff and hardware devoted to preventing illegal entry and pursuing those who violate U.S. immigration laws within our borders.
· Mandatory E-Verify (or a similar system) for all employers, phased in over five years. This would include a new biometric identification card for foreign nationals and universal use of the E-Verify photo tool to reduce document fraud. Also a system to permit workers to lock their social security numbers to prevent identity theft.
· New W visa status which will allow sponsorship of year-round skilled workers in significant numbers and a new agricultural guest-worker program.
· Substantial increase in the annual allotment of H-1B visas coupled with substantial new regulatory restrictions on H and L visas to protect U.S. workers.
· Substantial modifications to the employment-based immigrant visa program to eliminate backlogs by increasing visa allocations, removing dependents from the count for employment-based visa usage while continuing to allow them to work toward permanent status, and adding categories exempt from the annual numerical limits.
· A pathway to legalization for undocumented workers in the U.S. on December 31, 2011 who have maintained a continuous legal presence since then. Once benchmarks for improved border security are met – with a target 180 days after the bill’s passage – individuals could come forward to register for Provisional Immigrant Status, which would give them work and travel authorization. After a 10-year waiting period, workers could become eligible for green cards and then apply for citizenship following current procedures. Young people in DREAM Act status and in the Agricultural Program would qualify for green cards after five years instead of 10, and could apply for citizenship immediately thereafter.
The complete bill exceeds 800 pages and its complexity and creative approach to solving problems which have blocked previous efforts for reform can be seen even from this short synopsis.
In related announcements, both President Obama and the bipartisan group of 8 Representatives in the House issued statements commending the introduction of S.744. The House group promised introduction of its own bill in the near future.
Chris Bauer, Manager of Immigration Services at MSEC, promises that “We will be following this bill and the House bill closely as they proceed through the legislative meat-grinder. We are very excited with the possibility of being able to offer new options to employers faced with the many dilemmas posed by the current broken immigration system in the U.S. if comprehensive reform passes this year.”