The first significant steps in the process that may lead to a comprehensive overhaul of the United States immigration system have been made by a bipartisan group of eight U.S. Senators.
Some ten weeks after this group announced broad goals and an outline for compromise legislation in the U.S., they revealed a more detailed plan on April 16, 2013.
Of course, this proposed deal must first win approval by a highly divided and partisan Congress. Even this fairly moderate compromise may not survive intact.
Key Features of Plan
Lengthy “path to citizenship” for undocumented aliens
After a key federal agency creates a border-enforcement list of goals, undocumented immigrants without serious criminal backgrounds and who have lived in the U.S. since before December 31, 2011 can immediately receive the status of “registered provisional.” They must hold a job and pay a $500 fine and back taxes. Deportations of these people will stop, and they can work for any employer.
Thereafter, there will be a “path to citizenship” that will take a total of 13 years, and include a total of $2,000 in fines as well as payment of back taxes, a clean criminal record, a steady work history, and knowledge of English and civics. These people will be eligible for permanent resident status (“Green Card”) after 10 years.
Already deported individuals will be eligible to apply to come back to the U.S. if they have a parent or child who is a citizen or permanent resident.
There will be a faster citizenship path – 5 years only – for “DREAMers,” certain immigrants brought here illegally as children who meet additional requirements.
Split path for agricultural workers
Agricultural workers can have a Green Card after 5 years, but will not be eligible for immediate citizenship. There will also be a new agricultural guest worker program.
Increase in visas for high-skilled workers
The H1-B visa program will be expanded significantly to attract high- skilled workers, from the current 65,000 to at least 110,000 per year, and up to 180,000 if there is employer demand. Some individuals with extraordinary abilities and in other needed skills-categories will be exempt from these caps.
There will be a new “W-visa” program for 20,000 low-skilled guest workers, beginning in 2015, rising by 2019 to 75,000 workers. There are certain restrictions and conditions to safeguard the U.S.-citizen workforce.
This compromise proposal also includes certain requirements and goals to bolster border security and employer verification of immigration status of employees.
The additions to the employment-based categories are partly offset by elimination of the Diversity Visa Program in 2015, and reduction of categories of relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents eligible to come to the United States. to the current (but under-court-challenge federal Defense of Marriage Act), same-sex partners and spouses will not be eligible.
This plan by the “Gang of Eight” is only the beginning of what may be a difficult process toward comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system. There will be extensive debate, amendments proposed, and potentially significant opposition, particularly in the House of Representatives. Any final law passed by Congress and signed by the president may be much less sweeping than this compromise proposal.