Here is a short summary of the Senate immigration bill released to the general public late last night. Keep in mind that this is just proposed legislation, and no one can or should apply for anything yet. We’ve a long way to go before this legislation becomes reality.
Title I Border Security
This title provides for phased in border security measures that will achieve and maintain effective control in high risk border sectors of the Southern border.
- Border Plan: Stage one requires the Secretary of DHS to develop a Comprehensive Border Security Strategy and Southern Border Fencing Strategy that must be submitted to Congress before the registration period for Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPI) begins. These strategies must be designed to achieve an ability to achieve persistent surveillance of the border using both technology and human resources and to achieve a 90% effectiveness rate for apprehensions and returns in high risk border sectors. This bill appropriates $3 billion for this plan. The Secretary’s plan must be operational before any RPIs may apply for adjustment of status.
- Triggers: In addition, the Secretary must develop and implement a fencing plan (up to $1.5 billion); Everify must be mandatory and operational; and biographic entry-exit at air and seaports must be implemented before RPIs may adjust to permanent residence.
- Southwest Governors Commission: After five years, if the specified goals of 90% effectiveness and persistent surveillance have not been met, a Southern Border Security Commission will be established to make further recommendations for achieving the targets. The Commission will recommend up to $2 billion in additional spending that would be available achieve the border security goals if they have not yet been met.
- Additional Resources: To further ensure completion of these targets, Border Patrol personnel and resources will be increased, additional funding for border prosecutions in the Tucson sector are funded, and the authority of the National Guard to assist in border security operations is codified.
- Civil Rights: To protect the integrity of the system, additional resources and training will be devoted to implementing a DHS-wide use of force policy and associated training in appropriate use of force, individual rights, and sensitivity to cultural and environmental impact of federal operations on border communities. A Border Oversight Taskforce is established to take testimony and conduct hearings in order to review and recommend changes to existing border policies. The current duties of the USCIS Ombudsman’s office will be expanded to encompass all DHS immigration functions.
Title II Legalization (Registered Provisional Immigrant program) and Legal Immigration
- This title provides a path to citizenship for the 11.5 million undocumented workers in the United States. This title establishes a new framework for future legal immigration that maximizes the number of visas made available annually to persons in family, employment, and a new merits based visa category. In addition to the current family and employment based systems, two additional “merit-based systems” would be created.
SubPart A. Creation of Registered Provisional Immigrant program
- Registration Requirements: Immigrants who entered the United States before December 31, 2011 and have been physically present in the U.S. since that time will be eligible to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status provided they pass background checks, have not been convicted of serious criminal activity, pay any assessed tax liability, pay appropriate fees and a $500 fine.
- Initial registration will be valid for six years, provides for work and travel authorization, and includes spouses and children.
- Renewal: RPIs applying for renewal will be subject to new background check, evidence of having been regularly employed while meeting public charge requirements or having income and resources at 125% of the poverty level evidence of learning English and payment of fees and a $500 fine.
- Adjustment of status to Permanent Residency: At the end of ten years, RPIs may apply for adjustment of status, provided that they can continue to demonstrate eligibility per the renewal standards (with a heightened income requirement) with payment of an additional $1000 fine. Individuals present in the U.S. for 10 years in lawful status can adjust status. RPIs may not adjust status until the family and employment backlogs are cleared and the border security triggers are met. RPIs may apply for naturalization after a three year wait, making the total path to citizenship a 13 year wait.
- Timeline: There is an initial 12 month period for regulations. Then there is a one year initial application period which can be extended for up to one year at the discretion of the Secretary.
- DREAM Act: Individuals who entered the United States before the age of 16 and who have completed high school in the U.S. may register for RPI status through the DREAM Act. There is no age cap for the program. Five years after registration, DREAM RPIs may apply for adjustment of status; their time in RPI status will count towards eligibility for naturalization, allowing them to become citizens immediately after receiving their green card.
- Agricultural Program: Undocumented farm workers who have made a substantial prior commitment to agricultural work in the United States would be eligible for an Agricultural Card. Agricultural workers who fulfill future Agricultural Card work requirements in U.S. agriculture, show that they have paid all taxes, have not been convicted of any serious crime, and pay a $400 fine are eligible to adjust to legal permanent resident status.
- Grant Programs: Creates an Office of New Americans and additional integration initiatives. Provides funding for immigration legal services.SubPart B. Legal Immigration Reforms
- A new “Track Two” merit-based system is created to adjust the status of individuals lawfully present in the U.S. for over ten years with work authorization and to eliminate all existing legal immigration backlogs within the next 8 years. The Secretary is permitted to clear the backlog of family and employment based petitions that have been pending for more than 5 years.
- Lawful Permanent Residents’ spouses and children become “immediate relatives” and are uncapped: Current family based categories will be revised to permit the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to immigrate immediately.
- Additional changes to the current family system: The current sibling category will be eliminated 18 months after enactment, but the backlog reduction program will include processing of all sibling petitions submitted before expiration of the program and US citizens can petition for the sibling for up to 18 months after enactment. The third family preference category (adult married children of US citizens) has an age cap of 31.
- New Family “V” Visa: Creates a new nonimmigrant visa for families with approved petitions to work and live in the U.S. while waiting for their green card. Allows other family members including siblings to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year
- International adoption harmonization allows adoption of foreign-born children till age of 18, as opposed tp the current age of 16.
- Equal treatment for all stepchildren, as in the age until which a step-child is considered a child is amended from 18 to 21.
- Clarification of 203(h)(3) of the Child Status Protection Act – Children who age out after complex mathematical formula still retain the original priority date of any family-visa, employment-visa and diversity visa petition filed on behalf of their parents, and can apply the original priority date to a subsequent petition filed on their behalf by a parent.
- Employment-Based Reforms: Spouses and children of employment based visa applicants, STEM graduates with doctoral degrees, certain other experts and professionals, and certain foreign doctors are exempt from the employment visa cap. The cap on low-skilled workers is raised.
- New Merit-Based System: Creates a “Track One” merit based visa which will initially allocate 120,000 visas annually based on a points system. Equally weighted points will be awarded for factors such as education, employment, and length of residence in the US, with the possibility of increasing the allotment by 5% (capped at 250,000) in any year where unemployment is under 8.5%. A portion of these merit visas will be set aside for high skilled and low skilled workers.
- Additional Backlog Reduction and Improvements: Additional provisions to streamline processing and reduce backlogs including elimination of employment based country caps, increase in family based country limits, and recapture of unused visa numbers are authorized. Permanently authorizes popular programs for foreign doctor (Conrad-30), religious worker recruitment; and EB-5 investors. Includes numerous other technical fixes to improve and streamline current visa programs, many of which were included in the Menendez/Honda Reuniting Families Act (additional protections for stepchildren, widows, and other family members.)
- Judicial Discretion: Expands availability of waivers for unlawful presence, false claims to U.S. citizenship, misrepresentation and expands authority of immigration judges and DHS to waive removal on humanitarian grounds, lowering the bar from extreme hardship to hardship for parents, spouses and children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
Title Three: Interior Enforcement
- This title mandates E-Verify, provides additional worker protections, reforms the immigration court system and provides additional measures related to interior enforcement.
- Five year phase-in of mandatory E-Verify: Establishes a phased-in expansion o current electronic employment verification system (E-verify) to cover all employers within a four year period, beginning with federal contractors and critical infrastructure employers. Requires identity verification through enhanced fraud-proof work authorization and green cards. Specifically prohibits creation of a national ID card.
- Anti-fraud measures: Expands ability to protect against identity theft of Social Security numbers by allowing employees to block their social security number and gives employees access to personal E-verify history. It provides for photo identification mechanism as component of E-verify.
- Due Process: Expands due process protections for employees to ensure that legal workers are not prevented from working due to errors in the system or because of employer negligence or misconduct. Provides for back-pay if an employee loses work unfairly due to system or employer error. Provides a stay of termination of employment to give the worker time to correct any errors in the system.
- Worker Protections: Subparts B and C of this Title provide other miscellaneous protections for employers and employees, including pre-emption of state and local work authorization laws, expansion of U visas in employer abuse situations (POWER ACT), creation of mandatory exit verification system, program funding. The bill also cracks down on labor recruitment abuse.
- Refugee/Asylum Issues: Streamlines processing in refugee and asylum cases by eliminating one year asylum filing deadline, allowing persons who were denied asylum as a result of the one-year filing bar to file a motion to reopen the case within 2 years of the enactment of the bill; eliminating family reunification barriers for asylees and refugees, authorizing streamlined processing of certain high risk refugee groups, authorizing asylum officers to grant asylum for eligible applicants during credible fear interviews, and permits qualified stateless individuals to apply for lawful permanent resident status.
- Immigration Court Improvements: Authorizes increase in immigration court personnel, additional resources, and more training for judges and other staff, access to counsel for vulnerable populations to improve efficiency of courts, permanently and codifies Board of Immigration Appeals and legal orientation programs.
- Interior Enforcement: Tightens certain grounds of inadmissibility relating to document and passport fraud, driving while intoxicated following two convictions, conviction for gang related activities, convictions related to domestic violence, child abuse, stalking, violation of protection orders and failing to register as a sex offender. Prohibits and or increases penalties for abusive smuggling, hindering or obstructing immigration investigations, illegal entry and re-entry.
- Detention Reform: Increases oversight of detention facilities, expands discretion of immigration judges to conduct bond hearings, and requires establishment of alternative to detention programs in consultation with community groups.
Title IV Reforms to Non Immigrant Visa Programs
This Title reforms current non-immigrant visa programs and creates a new W worker visa that melds greater employer flexibility with more worker protections and ability to self-petition for permanent residence.
- H-1B: Reforms to the H-1B high skilled visa program include expanding current cap from 65,000 to 110,000 with an option to ultimately increase the cap to 180,000 visas annually based on a High Skilled jobs Demand Index. Increases requirements for web-site advertising for U.S. workers prior to hiring foreign workers.
- H-4: Allows dependents of H-1B workers work authorization if country of origin reciprocates with similar provisions for U.S. citizen dependents living abroad
- Deterring Abuse: Establishes significant new authorities and penalties to prevent, detect, and deter fraud and abuse of the H-1B and L-1 visa systems by fraudulent employers. Increases wages for foreign workers to help protect Americans.
- H-2B: Makes permanent the H-2B returning worker provision.
- New Worker Program (W Visa): Establishes a new nonimmigrant W classification for lesser-skilled foreign workers performing services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position. Spouses and minor children are included and will receive work authorization. Three year visa with three year renewal periods. Initially, 20,000 W visas will be made available, rising to 75,000 visas in year four. After that time, a newly established Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research will be authorized to calculate and recommend appropriate W visa levels. Other safety valves will be built into the cap to ensure occupations or employers with genuine shortages can hire needed workers. W visa holders may switch from one registered employer or position to another without penalty and upon meeting other eligibility criteria apply for the merits based lawful permanent residence.
- Agriculture: A new agricultural guest worker visa program would be established to ensure an adequate agricultural workforce. A portable, at-will employment based visa (W-3 visa) and a contract-based visa (W-2 visa) would replace the current H-2A program. The H-2A program would sunset after the new guest worker visa program is operational.