On April 17, 2013, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced into the comprehensive immigration bill titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. The bill, which is nearly 850 pages long, contains several important prospective changes to immigration law which affect both employment-based and family-based immigration opportunities, as well as provides a pathway to legal residence for those foreign nationals currently in the U.S. without lawful status.
Registered Provisional Immigrant Status
The bill would allow certain foreign nationals who are currently in the U.S. without legal status to adjust their status to that of a Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI).
To qualify as an RPI, the foreign national must have entered the U.S. before December 31, 2011, must be physically present in the U.S. on the date the RPI application is submitted, and must have maintained continuous physical presence from December 31, 2011 until RPI status is approved. Additionally, the foreign national must not have been convicted of any felony, any aggravated felony, unlawful voting, or three or more misdemeanors (other than minor traffic offenses).
Notably, the bill does establish a waiver of the three or more misdemeanor ineligibility grounds if the applicant can prove that the waiver would promote family unity or is otherwise in the public interest.
The bill also allows RPIs to eventually apply for legal permanent residency and ultimately U.S. citizenship.
The New “Blue” Card
The bill creates a Blue Card Status (BC status) for agricultural workers who perform at least 575 hours or 100 work days during the two-year period ending on December 31, 2012. The BC status may be converted into lawful permanent resident status after five years.
Replacing the Diversity Visa Lottery Program with a Merit-Based LPR System
The bill would end the diversity visa lottery program and replace it with a merit-based system which would allow foreign nationals to accumulate “points” in different categories in order to obtain permanent resident status. The points would be awarded based upon factors such as education, duration and type of employment in the U.S., the presence of family members in the U.S., and length of residence in the U.S.
Changes to Family-Based Immigration
The bill also proposes radical changes to family-based immigration. Specifically, the bill would reclassify spouses and minor children of permanent residents as immediate relatives and would also allow all immediate relatives to bring their derivative beneficiaries to the U.S. with them. The bill would also remove adult siblings of U.S. citizens from the list of family-based immigration beneficiaries.
Increase the H-1B Cap
The bill would increase the H-1B Cap which is currently at 65,000 per fiscal year. The bill creates a floor of 110,000 and a ceiling of 180,000 H-1B visas per year. Additionally, the bill would provide for work authorization for the spouses of H-1B workers, if the spouse’s home country allows reciprocal employment in similar situations.
The Creation of the Retiree Visa
The bill creates a Retiree Visa that will be granted to a foreign national who is at least 55 years old and has health insurance, uses $500,000 cash to purchase at least one residence in the U.S., maintains ownership of that residence during the entire period the foreign national is in the U.S., and resides more than 180 days in a residence in the U.S. that is worth at least $250,000.
At this point, the Senate has held two hearings on the bill and more are expected to be scheduled in the coming weeks. At the first hearing, the Senators heard testimony from various experts on multiple issues including the impact of illegal immigration on American workers, how immigration reform represents unique economic opportunities. Much of the discussion and debate centered on the impact of low-skilled immigrants on Americans’ wages and how agricultural workers beneficially and detrimentally affect the economy (though topics did range from family-based immigration issues to asylum and refugee issues).
At the second hearing, many of the same matters were discussed but more focus was given to family-based immigration. For example, one Senator spoke on the status of unaccompanied children who must represent themselves in immigration court proceedings and proposed that the bill be amended to address this issue. The same Senator also expressed support for including a provision allowing for those in a same-sex relationship to sponsor their partner for immigration benefits.
The provisions of the bill offer several new opportunities for foreign nationals seeking to live and work in the United States. However, it will likely take several months for the Congress to approve a bill and in that time period, the text of the bill will almost certainly change. Continue to check back with our blog to remain informed on the most up-to-date news on immigration reform.
More Blog Posts:
Technology Entrepreneurs Call for Immigration Reform, ImmigRantings, March 5, 2013
President’s Inaugural Address Highlights Needs for Reform of Highly-Skilled Immigrant and Work Visa Programs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
High-Tech Immigration Reform Still Has Considerable, If Frustrated Support, but H-1B Visas Receive Criticism, ImmigRantings, April 11, 2013