On April 17, 2013, eight US Senators introduced the highly anticipated immigration reform bill entitled: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. This bill is the result of a bipartisan effort from both Republicans and Democrats. This is the first step towards a meaningful and practical comprehensive immigration reform. The bill attempts to meet the needs of the US economy, business owners, immigrants and their families.
The proposed law will still undergo changes and will be subject to compromises, as most controversial bills do. In its present form, the bill directly addresses those critical issues necessary for any successful immigration reform such as: legalization (amnesty), backlog reduction, family unification, border control and enforcement. This is a very promising start and hopefully the contents of the bill will not be watered down by too many amendments.
To deal with the undocumented and overstaying aliens, the bill introduces a new status: Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI). This is an amnesty provision. Those who were present in the US prior to December 31, 2011 will be eligible to register upon payment of a penalty fee. RPI status will be for a 6-year period and may be renewed. The applicant will be able to work for any employer and will be able to travel outside the US. The applicant can petition his spouse and children as derivatives. After 10 years, aliens in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident status.
The bill eliminates the backlog for family and employment-based immigrants. The child and spouse of a permanent resident will now be considered immediate relatives eliminating this preference category. They will be treated like spouses and children of US citizens and will not have to wait for any priority date. This provision bolsters family unification. The bill also proposes to eliminate the visa lottery program.
On the employment green card categories, the bill exempts from numerical limits aliens of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, multinational executives and managers, doctoral degree holders and certain physicians. The bill creates a startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs and a new merit based visa category. Under the merit base visa, individuals will be awarded points based on their education, employment, length of residence in the US and other considerations. Those individuals with the most points will earn the visas.
For the temporary working visas, the bill tackles the issue by reforming the H-1B visa. The H-1B visa cap will be increased from 65,000 to a maximum of 180,000 per year. Spouses of H-1B workers will be granted work authorization. Recruiting of US workers prior to hiring an H-1B worker will be made a requirement and the minimum wage for the alien worker will be increased in order to avoid undercutting US workers. A new W visa category is created by the bill. This visa will cover skilled workers without a professional degree that are not under the H-1B visa. A list of shortage occupations eligible for the visa will be established.
The foregoing is just a short list of the many features of the 844 page legislation. The bill is not perfect but it is a very good bill in many aspects. We should expect further changes on many provisions. But what is certain is this; this has been the closest we have been to a meaningful immigration reform in a very long time.