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Group of U.S. Senators Issues Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Immigration Laws, Promote Employment-Based Immigration

Capitol-Senate.JPGA group of eight U.S. senators issued a proposal entitled the “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (the “Framework”) on January 28, 2013. The proposal addresses improving the system of employment based immigration and work authorization for both high- and low-skilled immigrants, as well as attracting highly-educated, highly-skilled people from abroad to work in the United States. The Framework is just a statement of the principles that an eventual immigration reform bill might cover, and therefore has no legal effect. It may still be some time before Congress actually acts on the issue, but the Framework has already received the support of some Congressional leaders and advocates for immigrant communities.

The Framework identifies four “legislative pillars.”

Undocumented Immigrants, Border Security, and Visa Overstays

The Framework calls for a “tough but fair” means for undocumented immigrants, of whom an estimated 11 million currently live in the U.S., to obtain citizenship. It describes a process for undocumented immigrants to obtain “probationary legal status” and work authorization by registering with federal authorities, submitting to a background check, and paying a fine and tax arrears. Individuals with probationary status would “go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants” to await a green card. Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and those who have performed “important and difficult [agricultural] work” may be subject to less-stringent requirements.

“Attracting the World’s Best and Brightest”

A reformed immigration system should recognize the needs of both American businesses and families, in order to attract immigrants who will help both to thrive. Aside from a general call to reduce backlogs in visa applications, the Framework’s only concrete proposal is a category of green card for immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields from American schools.

Employment Verification

This pillar calls for stricter enforcement of work authorization laws and a national database for employment verification.

Admission of Unskilled Workers to Meet Employer Needs

Most people who enter the U.S. without authorization, according to the Framework, do so in search of employment. The Framework envisions a system that allows employers to hire low-skilled immigrants if they can show that no American workers are available, and that adjusts the number of low-skilled worker visas available in any given year based on levels of demand and job creation. The needs of the agricultural industry would play a major role in determining the number of visas to authorize. Workers who prosper in their jobs could have a means of obtaining green cards after “many years.” The Framework also mentions the importance of “strong labor protections” for these workers, although it does not elaborate.

The Rant

The Framework hits on several issues that plague employers and employment-based immigration attorneys, but without considerably more detail on how to achieve the Framework’s goals, it is hard to see it as more than wishful thinking. Allowing for annual adjustment of visa caps based on demand seems like an excellent idea, given the difficulties faced by H-1B petitioners. At the same time, the mess that is the current H-1B program is cause for caution regarding hopes for a system that can not only process visa applications, but also make reasonable adjustments based on demand and economic conditions. The Framework is ambitious, but the current state of our immigration system suggests that meaningful reform on the front lines will come slowly.

Web Resources:

Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (PDF file), Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennet, and Flake, January 28, 2013
More Blog Posts:

President’s Inaugural Address Highlights Needs for Reform of Highly-Skilled Immigrant and Work Visa Programs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
U.S. Senator Outlines Proposal to Increase Immigration for High-Tech Jobs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012
Photo credit: By Scrumshus (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.