In June 2013, the Senate passed Senate Bill 744, a comprehensive immigration bill that would completely re-work the country’s immigration system. As of this date, the House is still undecided. The key issue for House Republicans is the path to citizenship for undocumented aliens. There are many rumors about what Senate Bill 744 includes, and I hope with this post to clear up any misconceptions regarding what’s involved in Senate Bill 744.
Senate Bill 744 involves several major areas of immigration policy including border security, immigrant visas and agricultural workers, interior enforcement of immigration laws and E-Verify, and non-immigrant visas.
Regarding border security, Senate Bill 744 increases the Department of Homeland Security budget from $59 billion to $79 billion, which is a 34% increase. There would be a huge increase in the resources for the border, and the number of agents would be doubled from 19,000 to 38,000. A new passport control system would be put in place to track the exits of aliens departing the United States as well. 700 miles of additional fencing along the southern border would be installed and more mobile surveillance would be used.
The bill would give Department of Homeland Security six months to create a strategy for using the resources, and a six month time frame to develop a security strategy to monitor 100% of the borders and prevent 90% of illegal crossings.
IMMIGRANT VISAS AND AGRICULTURAL WORKERS
Senate Bill 744 would develop a new category for immigrants called registered provisional immigrants (RPI). Undocumented aliens currently in the US would be eligible to become RPI under Senate Bill 744. The RPIs would be eligible to become lawful permanent residents and obtain a green card in the future, but certain border security goals must be met before this is possible. In order to qualify for RPI status, the alien must have been residing in the US since December 31, 2011. The alien cannot have any felonies, aggravated felonies in order to qualify, and if the alien has two or more misdemeanors, s/he will be ineligible. Aliens must pay assessed taxes and a $1,000 penalty fee along with application fees. Spouses and children would be eligible for RPI status as well. The RPI status waives the three and ten year bars for unlawful presence. Prior deportations and exclusions may be waived if the individual has a close relative who is a US citizen or permanent resident. RPI status would be available only after DHS issues the final regulations, and DHS would have one year to develop regulations. (This means that even if Senate Bill 744 passed today, no one could file for about a year or more.)
RPI approved aliens would receive work authorization. The initial approval would be for six years, but the RPI can renew for an additional six years if s/he has been continuously employed. RPI can apply for permanent resident status after ten years if certain other immigration policy goals are met. To become a permanent resident, aliens must show English proficiency, pay an additional $1,000 penalty and filing fees and taxes. Once the RPI is a permanent resident, s/he can apply for naturalization in three years. The total path to citizenship would be around 13 years.
RPI would also be available for Dream Act applicants. In order to file for RPI for Dreamers, the alien must meet all criteria for regular RPI. Dreamers will be eligible to adjust status to permanent residents after only five years. They can immediately naturalize upon becoming permanent residents. Path to citizenship would be five years. To be eligible for the Dream Act, the alien must show that s/he entered before age 16, graduated high school or passed the GED, completed two years of college or four years of military service, and passed background checks. The Dreamer must pass an English test as well.
The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is to be made permanent as well. Premium processing of EB-5 cases will be possible. EB-5 applicants will be able to concurrently file for adjustment of status when they apply for the EB-5. The required investment amount will fluctuate based on percentage change to CPI during prior fiscal years.
Senate Bill 744 would make E-Verify a mandatory process. It would phase in E-Verify over time. E-Verify is an electronic employment verification system for employers to check whether an individual is authorized to work in the US. E-verify would be required for new hires and current employees. Employers with 5,000 or more employees would be required to use E-Verify within two years of regulations being finalized. All employers must use E-Verify within four years. The fines for employer violations are increased as well.
Senate Bill 744 requires the Social Security Administration to issue identity theft resistant social security cards within five years.
Senate Bill 744 would increase the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 – 180,000, but ties the number available to market conditions such as unemployment rate. Employers will not be allowed to have more than 50% of workforce on H-1B or L visas. For H-1B visas, employers will need to advertise the position, which might end up being a mini version of PERM certification.
Keep in mind that Senate Bill 744 is not law. It is merely proposed law. Congress could change the terms of comprehensive immigration reform over the next several months. Also, note that even if comprehensive immigration reform passed tomorrow, DHS and other related agencies would need to prepare and finalize regulations governing the new law before any new benefits will be available. The process of developing regulations could take up to a year.