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Immigrant Reform: A Summary of Proposals

22:36 01 October in News Updates
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Immigration Reform, Anyone?

It was a busy week in immigration last week and it looks like it will continue in the coming weeks and months! Comprehensive Immigration Reform plans were announced by President Obama and by a bi-partisan group of eight Senators last week to “fix our broken immigration system”. The “Gang of Eight” announced their plan on Monday, January 28th and President Obama announced his plan – very similar to the Group of Eight’s – on Tuesday, January 29th. Also on January 29th another bi-partisan group of Senators introduced the Immigration Innovation (I²) Act of 2013 which focuses on the employment-based immigration process. Moreover, at the very end of the week it was made public that there also is a bi-partisan group of eight members of the House of Representatives who propose to put forth a comprehensive immigration plan – similar to the Senate’s plan – sometime next week. All acknowledge that our current immigration system is broken and something needs to be done – Now!

Our own Diana Vellos Coker and Kimberley Best Robidoux are actively involved with the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Advocacy and Media Committee for the San Diego Chapter and have been meeting with congressional representatives to discuss immigration reform. Kimberley also was featured in a KUSI News 9 (San Diego) segment about the Gang of 8’s Plan last Monday.

While the first major step taken towards improving – or at least changing – our immigration system was announced by the Gang of Eight last Monday, we would like to first discuss the Immigration Innovation (I²) Act of 2013 which will directly impact most of our clients filing employment-based cases.

Immigration Innovation (I²) Act of 2013:

Senate Bill 169, introduced by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and Chris Coons (D-Del) last Tuesday proposes to do the following:

Increase the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and establish a “market-based H-1B escalator” that will permit the adjustment of the cap (up or down) based on the economy. For instance, if the H-1B cap is reached in the first 45 days when petitions may be filed with USCIS, an additional 20,000 H-1B visas will immediately be made available for the filing of more H-1B petitions.
Remove the cap for the existing 20,000 U.S. advanced degree exemption.
• Authorize employment for dependent spouses of H-1B workers.
Increase the portability of high-skilled foreign workers by providing a clear transition period for foreign workers as they change jobs and by removing various immigration obstacles and immigration costs associated with changing employers. The Bill also proposes to bring back visa revalidation for individuals who hold E, H, L, O and P nonimmigrant status. This would mean that certain individuals could obtain new visas in their passport directly from the State Department within the U.S. following an approval or extension of work authorization; they would not need to travel abroad to obtain such visas.
• Permit foreign students to have dual intent – intent to reside and go to school in the U.S. while at the same time possess the intent to reside in the U.S. permanently by pursuing permanent resident status.
Change the way that immigrant visas (green cards) are counted for the employment-based permanent resident process.
o Exempt certain categories of individuals from the employment-based green card cap, including dependents of employment-based green card recipients; U.S. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) advance degree holders; individuals with extraordinary ability; and outstanding professors and researchers.
o Unused visa numbers would roll over to the following fiscal year and annual per-country limits for employment-based petitioners would be eliminated.
While all of these innovations would be beneficial, there is a catch – additional fees would be implemented on H-1B visas and employment-based green cards in order to fund a grant program to promote STEM education and worker retraining.

The “Gang of Eight’s” Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

On January 28th, the Gang of Eight bipartisan senators introduced their plan for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Their Plan is based on “Four Basic Legislative Pillars”:

• Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
• Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
• Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
• Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

So far, the Gang of Eight has just introduced an outline for future legislation. They have not yet introduced a bill. As we all know, “the devil will be in the details”. But, we do know that the Plan calls for a reduction in the backlog of the employment-based green card categories. It also mentions that the United States must do better in “attracting and keeping the world’s best and brightest.” To do this, the Plan specifies that green cards will be awarded to individuals who have obtained a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. University.

Did someone mention E-Verify? What will happen to the current program? The Plan states that we must have an employment verification system that will hold “employers accountable for knowingly hiring undocumented workers and make it more difficult for unauthorized immigrants to falsify documents to obtain employment.” The Plan appears to want to do away with the current E-Verify program and replace it with a “fast and reliable” employment verification system. Here we go again!

President Obama’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Principles:

President Obama’s Principles, released on Tuesday, January 29th are very similar to the Gang of Eight’s Plan. The following are his four principles:

• Continuing to strengthen border security.
• Cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers.
• Earned citizenship.
• Streamlining legal immigration.

Both the Gang of Eight and President Obama have emphasized that undocumented foreign nationals in the U.S. will need to pay their back taxes, pay a penalty, learn English, pass background checks and move to the back of the line – those who have been playing by the rules will receive preferential treatment in the new system. Moreover, while undocumented workers may obtain “provisional status” right away to reside and work in the U.S. legally, they will not be able to obtain permanent resident status until the borders are secure (a term yet to be defined).

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