Senate Takes Key Step Passing Gang of 8 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S.744)


Gang of Eight (8) Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S.744)

By Robert Perkins, Attorney at Law*

May 22, 2013 — Yesterday the United States Senate Judiciary Committee took a critical step in passing the Gang of Eight’s much needed comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744) for the United States. By a vote of 13 to 5, the committee sent to the full Senate floor legislation that grants a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, creates a new visa for unskilled or low skilled foreign labor (caregivers, hospitality workers and certain construction workers) and increases the H-1B quota. The House of Representatives must pass similar legislation before these provisions become effective. However, the committee vote on the Gang of Eight bill is very important because voting was bipartisan – both Republicans and Democrats voted for it — and Republican leaders have promised not block a vote of the full Senate on the bill via a “filibuster”. The filibuster has been used to block past efforts at immigration reform.

Below is a summary of the Gang of 8 Bill. While it remains to be seen what parts of this can pass the House of Representatives, I believe that the bipartisan Senate bill offers a good look at the road map for comprehensive immigration reform. Even if the House does not approve all of these measures some may be approved later or after mid-term elections in 2014. The Six key areas in the Senate Gang of 8 Bill are summarized below.


1. RIGHT TO WORK AND PATH TO CITIZENSHIP FOR PEOPLE NOT IN LEGAL IMMIGRATION STATUS

  • The estimated 11 million PLUS people living in the U.S. illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:

    (1) The Department of Homeland Security has developed border security and fencing plans.
    (2) They arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and have lived here continuously since then.
    (3) They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.
    (4) They pay a $500 fine.

  • People in provisional legal status could work in the U.S. which means they could obtain lawful social security numbers and pay taxes, but they would not be eligible for federal welfare and other benefits.
  • Provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another six years for $500.
  • People who were deported for noncriminal reasons can apply to re-enter in provisional status if they have a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or if they had been brought to the U.S. as a child.
  • After 10 years in provisional status, provisional immigrants can seek lawful permanent resident status, i.e. a “green card” if they are current on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the U.S., meet work requirements and learn English. Also the border triggers must have been met, and all people presently waiting to immigrate through the legal system must have been dealt with.
  • People brought to the country as youths have a better path to citizenship. They would be able to get green cards in five years, and citizenship immediately thereafter.


2. H-1B CHANGES

  • The cap on the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers would be immediately raised from 65,000 a year to 110,000 a year, with 25,000 more set aside for people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. The cap could go as high as 180,000 a year depending on demand.
  • New protections would crack down on companies that use H-1B visas to train workers in the U.S. only to ship them back overseas.


3. UNSKILLED/SKILLED WORKERS

  • A new “W” visa would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled workers a year into the country for jobs in construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries/jobs which traditionally have hired immigrants.
  • A new agriculture worker visa program would be established to replace the existing program. Agriculture workers already here illegally, who’ve worked in the industry at least two years, could qualify in another five years for green cards if they stay in the industry.


4. FAMILY IMMIGRATION

  • The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring their siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if those children are under age 31.
  • Legal permanent residents can currently sponsor spouses and children, but the numbers are limited. The bill eliminates that limit.


5. OTHER VISA SYSTEM CHANGES

  • A startup visa would be made available to foreign entrepreneurs seeking to come to the U.S. to start a company. More details on this to follow.
  • A new merit visa based on a points system, capped at 250,000 a year, would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations. Those with the most points would earn the visas.
  • The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants would be eliminated.


6. EMPLOYMENT VERIFICATION

  • Within four years, all employers will be required to implement E-Verify, an existing program to electronically verify their workers’ legal status. As part of that, noncitizens would be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.


The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the Gang of Eight Bill after the Labor Day holiday. While the Gang of 8 Bill faces some uncertainty in the House of Representatives, some key Democrats have already come out in favor of it. It remains to be seen whether enough Republicans will support the Gang of Eight Bill to allow its passage or whether the House will pass a different bill. If the House passes’ a different bill, the House and Senate would then meet to iron out their differences and present a bill to the President. This writer think’s it likely that we will see some type of immigration reform no later than fall of this year.


* Robert Perkins has been practicing immigration law for 23 years. He has also taught immigration law as an Adjunct Professor at University of Illinois. Popularly known as “The Immigration Professor”, Perkins maintains a website at www.ImmigrationProfessor.com with information videos on various immigration topics. Mr. Perkins practices immigration law in all 50 states and represents clients and companies from all over the world.

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About Robert Perkins
Robert A. Perkins | Attorney at Law Robert A. Perkins is the sole partner and founder of Robert A. Perkins & Associates, PC. Since the establishment of the firm in 1994, Mr. Perkins' focus has been in Employment and Family Based Immigration. Mr. Perkins has represented many companies and individuals within the United States and abroad. His experience and knowledge of immigration have made him a nationally renowned attorney in his field. Immigration Attorney Robert A. Perkins is licensed and admitted in the State of Illinois and the US Supreme Court.

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