On April 16, the Senate bipartisan
group working on immigration reform introduced the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration
Modernization Act (S. 744). As expected, the bill does not include a state
and local government impact assistance grant program to help with health and
education costs. NACo will continue to
work with other partner organizations to urge Congress to include this program. NACo issued a press
release highlighting several positive aspects of the bill. Following is a summary of some of the key
provisions included in the bill.
Border Security: Would
appropriate $3 billion for a Comprehensive Border Security Strategy, $2 billion
for a Southern Border Security Commission and $1.5 billion for a Southern
Border Fencing Strategy. Enforcement
provisions would include surveillance and detention capabilities, additional
border patrol and customs officers, unmanned aerial and other surveillance
systems. In a move of interest to local
and state governments, it calls for reauthorization of the State Criminal Alien
Assistance Program (SCAAP) through 2015, but doesn’t specify funding. The Administration proposed eliminating SCAAP
in its FY2014 budget proposal. The bill
also includes funding for the purchase of compliant radios for federal state,
and local law enforcement agents and reimbursement for state, county, trial and
municipal government costs associated with prosecution and pre-trial detention.
Employment Verification: Would mandate
use of the E-verify system over a five-year phased-in period. The phase-in is based on the number of
employees, with larger employers being required to implement the system
first. The public sector is the same as
the private sector and E-verify applies only to prospective employees. Some E-verify bills in previous Congresses
would have mandated the public sector to implement the program faster than the
private sector and to apply the program to existing employees.
Path to Citizenship: There would be
multiple steps and requirements for the path to citizenship for the estimated
11 million unauthorized individuals. The
process is expected to take a minimum of 13 years.
Registered Provisional Status (RPI): Individuals
who have who have had a continuous presence in the U.S. since before Dec. 31,
2011 could adjust to a new Registered Provisional Immigrant status (RPI). They would have to pay a $500 penalty fee and
other fees required to process the application as well as assessed federal
taxes. Spouses and unmarried children
under 21 can be included in the application, but they must be present in the
U.S. at the time. Individuals who have
been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are eligible for RPI
status. Reasons for rendering an
individual ineligible include felony and aggravated felony convictions and
convictions for three or more misdemeanors.
They would be eligible to work and travel outside the U.S. under certain
conditions. RPI status lasts for six
years and can be extended if they have not done anything that would render them
deportable. They would have to pay an
additional $500 at this time. How the
fees apply to spouses and children is unclear.
Adjusting to Lawful Permanent Residence
Status (LPR): After 10 years with RPI status they would be
able to adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status. At this time, they will have to show that
they have paid all their taxes during RPI status, they have worked regularly or
attended school full-time, demonstrate knowledge of civics and English and pay
an additional $1,000. They will not be
granted LPR until the secretary of Homeland Security certifies that
family-based and family visas are available for those who filed before the date
of enactment. This is known as the
back-of-the line provision. They may apply for citizenship three years after
they obtain legal permanent residency.
Exemptions for DREAM Act and AgJobs: The
Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) and the
Agricultural Job Opportunities Act (AgJobs) are included in the bill. The DREAM Act would provide RPI status to
individuals who enter the country prior to age 16, have a high school diploma
or GED, have a degree from an institution of higher education, have completed at
least two years of a bachelor’s degree, or have served in the armed forces for
at least four years. AgJobs applies to
individuals who have been working in U.S. agriculture for a minimum of 100 work
days or 575 hour in the two years prior to enactment, and they would receive a
“blue card.” Spouses and minor children
of individuals eligible under AgJobs are also eligible for the blue card.
who qualify the DREAM Act status AgJobs can get LPR status in five years
instead of 10. DREAM Act individuals do
not have to pay the $500 fee and would be eligible for citizenship immediately
after they adjust to LPR status. AgJobs
individuals would have to show they have paid taxes and have not committed
serious crimes, but their fine would be $400 instead of $500. DREAM Act individuals would be able to apply
for citizenship immediately after adjusting to LPR, and AgJobs individuals will
be eligible after five years.
Benefit eligibility: Individuals
with RPI status or blue cards would continue to be ineligible for means-tested
programs as under current law, which means that they are ineligible for
Medicaid other than emergency services, the Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families Block Grant, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and
Supplemental Security Income. The
five-year waiting period for means-tested programs for legal immigrants would
also apply when they adjust to permanent resident status. Additionally, they would be ineligible for
the tax credit, tax subsidies or the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act
while they are in RPI status.
Legal immigration reform: The current
family preference system would move from four categories to two, would
eliminate the adult siblings category and limit the married sons and daughters
of citizens category to those under the age of 31. The new merit-based visa system would come
into effect five years after enactment and would award points based on
education, length of residence, employment and other unspecified factors. On the employment side, the bill excludes
several categories from numerical limits, increases the percentage of visas for
skilled workers to 40 percent, and allocates 40 percent for individuals with
advance degrees and those who have a master’s degree in science, technology,
engineering or mathematics from a U.S. institution. The bill also includes provisions exempting
physicians who practice in underserved areas (known as the Conrad State 30
program) from the employment visa numerical cap.
Temporary visas: The base cap
for the H-1B visa program, which some hospitals use for doctors, would increase
from 65,000 to 110,000. The cap could go
as high as 180,000 but the most it can increase or decrease each year would be
10,000. The H-1C category for nurses
working in medically underserved areas, which expired in 2009, is reinstated. The Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel
(JOLT) provision, which streamlines the tourist visa program in order to
increase tourism, is included in the bill.
Low-skilled and agricultural worker visa
programs: The W-Visa program for lower-skilled workers
that was negotiated by the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO is
included. Lower-skilled workers are
individuals whose jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree. The W-visas would be for three years, but
could be extended. Spouses and minor
children would also be allowed into the country. There would be a cap on the number of visas,
starting at 20,000 and increasing to 75,000 by the fourth year. After that the number would be determined
based on economic factors. The H-2A
agricultural worker program would be replaced by a new agricultural guest
worker system that would include a portable, at will employment based visa
(W-3) and a contract-based visa (W-2).
The program would apply to all aspects of agriculture, not just seasonal
Education Provisions: Local and state governments would be eligible for a
new, albeit small, competitive grant program for integration services,
including English language skills and civics classes. There would be a new program funded by the
fees paid by employers who hire foreign science, technology, engineering and
mathematics (STEM) workers which would be used to provide scholarships to U.S.
STEM students and improve STEM education.
and a 72-page section-by-section summary prepared by Congressional staff.
Contact: Marilina Sanz 202.942.4260