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The Immigration Reform Bill Explained

One of the most important documents for US immigration reform was publicised yesterday. The 17 page outline of the Immigration Reform Bill was released on Tuesday by the 'Gang of Eight', a bipartisan group of senators working on proposals on this important issue. The full text of the bill -844 pages long - was revealed only yesterday, when the bill was introduced in the Senate.

What are some of the provisions of the Immigration Reform Bill? Which of the many discussed reforms were included, and which were left out? This article explains some of the key provisions contained in the bill outline. Please keep in mind that these are only proposals at this stage, and that the just-released full text of the bill must be further analysed in detail.

Changes to employment-based immigration:

  • H-1B (Skilled Worker) visa numbers will almost double from 65,000 to 110,000 per year, with the potential to increase to up to 180,000 if certain conditions are met. US employers, however, will have to pay even higher wages to H-1B visa holders. Additionally, spouses of H-1B visa holders on derivative visas may be permitted to work in the USA if a reciprocal agreement exists with the person's country of citizenship for spouses of US citizens;
  • Certain individuals will be exempt from the employment-based immigration numerical cap. This means that more individuals will be able to immigrate to the USA through employment as certain immigrants will not be counted towards the cap. These individuals include the spouses and minor children of employment-based immigrants; multinational managers and executives; PhD holders; foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in specified fields; outstanding professors and researchers; and some physicians;
  • 40% of all employment-based immigrant visas will be shared between STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) who graduate from a US university within 5 years of a petition being filed on their behalf by a US employer; and foreign nationals with a Masters or higher degree who are petitioned by US employers for work in the field of sciences, arts, professions, or business;
  • A new W visa category will be created for lower skilled workers who reside abroad but come to the USA to perform temporary work. An independent agency will be established to monitor the programme and make recommendations establishing the yearly cap on this visa category, which is proposed at 20,000 visas for the initial year.

Changes to family-based immigration:

  • Spouses and children under 21 of Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) will be classified as 'immediate relatives'. This means that an immigrant visa would immediately be available to them, eliminating the long separation of LPRs from their spouse and children who currently are often stranded abroad for several years before reunification is possible;
  • Sibling-sponsored family immigration will be eliminated 18 months after enactment of the legislation. This means that foreign nationals who have a US citizen sibling will no longer be able to obtain a 'green card' through their sister or brother. As the wait time in this category is often many years and sometimes decades, numerous individuals who thought they were on the path to obtaining a green card will be affected;
  • Diversity Visa Program (the 'Green Card Lottery') will be eliminated starting in 2015.
  • The backlog for family, as well as employment based categories will be eliminated.

New category of 'Merit-based' visas:

  • A new merit based visa will be created which will utilise a demand-based system to allocate between 125,000 and 250,000 visas per year, starting in October 2014. This system would be available in addition to existing family and employment based immigration options;
  • Eligible participants include employment-based visa applicants whose petitions have been pending for at least three years, family-based applicants whose petitions have been pending for at least five years and were filed prior to enactment of the legislation, as well as long term foreign workers and "other merit based immigrant workers" who have been in the USA for at least 10 years;
  • The merit based visas will utilise a point based system which awards points for the eligible applicant's education, employment, length of residence in the US and other criteria. The individuals who accumulate the most points in a particular year would be awarded the visas. There are further interim criteria through 2023 for how the visas would be allocated between employment and family based pending visa applications.

Employment Verification:

  • US employers will be required to implement the "E-Verify" system within five years to ensure that all employees have the legal right to work in the USA;
  • All employees in the USA will be required to show "biometric work authorization card" or "biometric green card" as proof of eligibility to work.

Path to citizenship for undocumented foreign nationals in the USA:

  • Certain undocumented foreign nationals in the USA will be able to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status which, when held for 10 years, will allow a person to obtain a green card and, within another three years, apply for US citizenship;
  • Eligibility criteria include having entered the U.S. before December 31, 2011, not having left the USA since, successfully passing a criminal background check, paying a $500 fine, and other requirements;
  • An expedited process will be in place for youth who qualify under the DREAM Act.

Border Security:

  • Significant resources will be devoted to securing the USA's borders, particularly the US- Mexico one, by utilising drone surveillance, increasing the number of customs and border agents, continuing fencing along the southern border, and additional measures if deemed necessary.

What was left out of the Immigration Reform Bill?

The Immigration Reform Bill fails to make provisions for bi-national LGBT couples. Prior to the issuance of the bill, there had been cautious optimism that a same sex spouse would be able to petition for his/her foreign spouse under the existing family-based immigration system. Concerns have already been expressed that, by leaving out the proposals enshrined in the Uniting American Families Act, the immigration bill fails to achieve comprehensive reform. This exclusion confirms what many LGBT advocates had anticipated regarding this first draft of the bill and there is hope that such provisions will be added in later versions of the bill before being place on President Obama's desk for his signature.

Warning about immigration scammers

With the Immigration Bill featuring prominently in the news, the American Immigration Lawyers' Association is warning that unqualified 'consultants' and 'notarios' who are not licensed as lawyers will seek to take advantage of members of the public. Please be aware that no law has yet been passed. Anyone promising to secure for you a 'green card' or other benefit under a new amnesty or a new immigration reform provision may well be only seeking to part you from your money, while often hurting an individual's chances of actually becoming a green card holder. To protect yourself, ensure that your lawyer is licensed in a US state and ask questions if you don't fully understand your US immigration options.

Contact the American Immigration Law Office today to discuss your US immigration options! The firm's US immigration lawyer in London is a qualified, licensed US lawyer and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. We look forward to assisting you.