Senate Finally Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

The Senate, in a bipartisan effort, today voted 62 to 36 to pass a compromise version of immigration reform. The Bill contains a range of important provisions and measures, affecting the processes of immigration and enforcement. Key provisions are as follows:

Path to Legal Status for Undocumented Individuals Currently in the U.S.

Undocumented individuals who have been in the U.S. for at least five years before April 5, 2006 are eligible for 6 years of work authorization in the U.S. and are provided with a path to eventual permanent legal status, if they pay a $2,000 fine, meet certain English and Civics requirements. pass requisite background checks and pay all back taxes owed. These individuals would receive a green card after all current family backlogs are cleared and would be able to apply for citizenship after five years under green card status.

Undocumented individuals who have been in the U.S. between two and five years will be considered under Deferred Mandatory Departure Status. These individuals would be provided with work authorization and an eventual path to permanent status if they leave the country within three years, remain in their home country for a short time, then return to the U.S. These individuals could apply for readmission to the U.S. prior to leaving this country. Please note that the Departure requirement will be waived for spouses and children, or in cases of substantial hardship to the person under status or a member of their immediate family.

Family Unity & Family and Employment Visa Backlog Relief

All individuals currently in family backlog status will receive green cards before any of the currently undocumented individuals receive them. A new family preference cap of 480,000 will be created, which would add 260,000 new visas per year to ensure the backlog dissipates.

A new employment-based cap of 450,000 will be created for a 10-year period, which would add 310,000 new visas per year. Visas for spouses and some children of particular employment-based immigrants will be capped at 650,000, while others will remain outside the cap.

Thirty percent of the employment-based cap will be reserved for essential workers and provisions will be put in place for widows and orphans.

High-Skilled Workers Immigration Reforms

Also included are reforms of student visa rules to authorize dual intent, expand the period of OPT and create a direct path of permanent status for particular students with advanced degrees.

The H-1B Visa Cap will be increased to 115,000 with a market-based escalator; exemptions will be provided for individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Exemptions for the annual employment-based cap will also be available for individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, along with aliens of extraordinary ability and outstanding professors and researchers.

Newly Created Temporary Worker Program

A new program will be created for 200,000 temporary essential workers per year. These workers will be provided with a 3 year visa that is renewable for 3 years and is portable so these individuals can work for employer(s) of their choice. Current undocumented individuals who entered the U.S. after January 2004 are eligible for this program, but must leave the U.S. to apply. It should be noted that all employers will be required to seek U.S. workers first and must instill labor protections and introduce wages at fair market value. These individuals will be able to apply for permanent status under the new employment-based cap. They can either petition for status themselves (if they have worked for four years) or their employer can petition for them.

Reforms to Agricultural Worker Program

All farmworkers who can prove that they engaged in at least 150 days of agricultural work in the U.S.during 2005 will be eligible for temporary resident status (Blue Card). Spouses and minor children will also be eligible for this status. For permanent status, these individuals must perform agricultural work for at least 100 work days per year for five years, or perform 150 days per year for three years. These individuals may work outside the field of agriculture, but those work hours will not count toward the required time.

There will be cap of 1.5 million for the earned legalization program.

The H-2A temporary foreign worker program will allow employers involved in the dairy industry to hire workers even when they are year-round workers.

DREAM Act – UndocumentedHigh SchoolStudents

Students who entered the U.S. before they were 16 years old and are present for five years before the date of this provision’s enactment and who have graduated from high school or received a GED can apply for a 6-year conditional status. Within 6 years, if these individuals have graduated from college or completed 2 years in a degree program, or have served in the Armed Forces, this conditional status will become permment; they will receive a green card.

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