On Thursday, June 27, 2013, the United States Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with an astounding 68-32 margin. The bill addresses the more than estimated 11 million people in the United States without legal status, the needs of worker shortages in certain industries and curbing further illegal entry into the country.
A bipartisan group of eight senators worked out a compromise that resulted in an 844 page bill entitled the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, additional amendments were added, mainly addressing border security.
The bill gives those already here without legal status a chance to stay and pursue citizenship, alters provisions for family sponsorship, eases rules for employers to hire foreign workers and requires an extensive increase in border security.
Economic opportunity for the jobs Americans won’t – or can’t — do
Employers must electronically verify all workers’ status via E-Verify within four years. The H-1B visa program for high skilled workers has been eased to allow upwards of 180,000 visas for workers educated at U.S. schools in science, technology, engineering or math. Furthermore, employers won’t have to try as hard to find suitable American workers prior to employing people on H-1B visas.
The Diverse Visa Lottery program, where 55,000 immigrants from countries with historically low immigration are awarded visas, will be eliminated and replaced with the merit visa. This will allow up to 250,000 people to be awarded visas based on factors such as education, employment and time in the U.S.
A new W visa is being created to allow up to 200,000 workers a year to work in industries such as construction, long-term care and hospitality. There is also a new agricultural worker visa program that allows for a path to green card status for those workers here illegally.
There are also start-up visas available for foreign entrepreneurs and exemptions from green card limits for those with extraordinary abilities, such as multinational executives and athletes.
Family ties don’t bind as tightly
The new bill eliminates the existing provision of sponsoring siblings. It does allow for sponsoring of married children and their spouses as long as they under the age of 31. It also allows the sponsoring of an unlimited number of children.
People brought into the country as youths can get green card status within five years and be eligible for citizenship immediately thereafter.
The path to citizenship is a long, winding and expensive road
The key provision for those without legal status is that they can stay and register for “provisional immigrant status” six months after the bill is enacted if they meet certain conditions. Once they receive this status, they can live and work freely in the United States for up to six years, but would not be eligible for any federal benefits, including health care and welfare. They can renew their provisional status for an additional six years and fee. After ten years, they can seek green card and lawful permanent status if they meet certain requirements and pay an additional fee.
The conditions and fees (or fines, depending on your perspective) for provisional immigrant status, starting six months after the passage of the bill to seeking green card status, are:
-Arrival in the U.S. prior to December 31, 2011 and maintained continuous physical presence
-No felony convictions or three or more misdemeanors
-Payment of a $500 fine for initial provisional status and an additional $500 per six year renewal
-Remain current on taxes
-Pay an additional $1,000.00 to apply for green card/lawful permanent status
-Meet work requirements
On its face, this may seem a rather straightforward, if not long and expensive, path for more than 11 million people to achieve legal residency. However, there are huge road blocks that they can do nothing about.
Blocking the path to citizenship by securing the border
The border security measures are numerous and expensive. They include doubling the number of border agents, completing the 700 miles of fencing and installing a host of security measures that seem to exist only in James Bond movies (including drones, planes and ships – oh my!). It is estimated the spending on these measures will cost about $47 billion dollars.
It should be noted that these measures are only to be done all along the U.S.-Mexico border. Canadians are free to enter without the risk of drones attacks. I’m guessing it’s because they are so nice and are really good at hockey.
How does this affect the path to citizenship? All of these measures must be completed before any one of the almost 11 million people here illegally can obtain a green card.
Yes, that means if a person has followed every time consuming and expensive step required of them, they can still be forced to wait because the U.S. government hasn’t finished building a fence.
But that’s not all. There is also a provision in the bill that everyone waiting to immigrate through the legal system when the bill is enacted must have been processed and finalized before any of the 11 million can begin the process of permanency.
While far from perfect, the Senate should be commended for taking on the task and millions can begin to come out of the shadows. Now the bill just needs to get through the House with the majority of Republican support — where they don’t want a path to citizenship for those here illegally.
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