The Current State of Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States

 In June of 2013, the United States Senate passed its version of the long-awaited comprehensive immigration reform.  A bi-partisan group of Senators introduced the bill in April 2013, after President Obama made immigration reform a top priority for his second administration. The bill was several hundreds of pages long and addressed major issues such as the large undocumented foreign national population in the United States and the best methods for encouraging foreign investment.  The following explanation outlines four general changes to immigration law that were included in the bill.

First, the bill establishes what is referred to in the media as a “tough but fair” pathway to U.S. citizenship, which would allow the undocumented foreign nationals currently in the country to gain legal immigration status after several years.  However, the actual execution of this part of the bill is dependent upon the successful increase in border patrol measures and national security measures.  These measures include the implementation of a tracking system that will make certain foreign nationals leave the country at the conclusion of their authorized stay.  Specific to border patrol security, the bill requires the placement of improved tracking and surveillance technology at the border, as well as an increase in the number of border patrol agents to help apprehend illegal border-crossers.

After the border is secure, the undocumented population will be able to apply for citizenship.  To do so, all applicants will need to pass a criminal background check, register with the U.S. immigration authorities, and pay back taxes and fines to the U.S. government.  After these initial measures are completed, the foreign nationals will have “probationary legal status” and work authorization.  Foreign nationals who have serious criminal backgrounds will not qualify for this probationary status.

Second, the bill also attempts to streamline and simplify the employment-based immigration processes and categories for prospective foreign workers.  The Senate has recognized that the U.S. turns away or loses exemplar foreign talent because the employment-based route to U.S. permanent residence is extremely lengthy and complicated.  To fix these problems, the bill reduces the current backlog in all of the employment-based and family-based immigration categories.

Importantly, to further encourage the best and brightest foreign mind to relocate to the U.S., the bill would set aside green cards for foreign nationals who have received U.S. Master’s degrees or PhD degrees in any of the science, technology, engineering, or math fields (sometimes called the STEM fields).

Third, the bill creates an efficient online system for employment verification that would help prevent identity theft and stop U.S. employers from hiring unauthorized foreign workers in the future.  This system would likely take the place of the current employment verification system called E-Verify.

Finally, the bill puts into place new and improved processes for special groups of foreign employees such as domestic helpers and agricultural workers, which will help these groups to more quickly and easily obtain work visas.

While the Senate bill was passed within three months, the House of Representatives have yet to agree on a similar piece of legislation with the result that 2013 came and went without the implementation of significant comprehensive immigration reform.  Hopefully 2014 will be the year that CIR becomes a reality as millions of immigrants still do not have equal access to justice in this country.  Continue to check back with our blog to stay up to date on all of the newest immigration developments.

Feel free to contact our office if you have questions on immigration opportunities.  We look forward to helping you with your case!