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April 21
​Senate Gang of Eight Introduces Bipartisan Immigration Bill

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.

People 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 workers.

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.

Read NACo’s press release and a 72-page section-by-section summary prepared by Congressional staff.

Contact:  Marilina Sanz 202.942.4260


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