Why Comprehensive Immigration Reform Has a Chance to Pass This Year

Since President Obama was inaugurated for his second term, he has made Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) a key policy initiative for his administration. Interest groups from the left and right, and even some Republicans, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are also in support of a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration laws.

Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State in the Bush Administration), Henry Cisneros (former Housing and Urban Development Secretary) and Haley Barbour (former Mississippi Governor) are three of 4 leaders spearheading a high profile group by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. The group’s aim is to act as a sounding board, and to assist and shepherd the initiative into law by the summer of 2013.

Bipartisan support continues, as Senators from both parties have also offered Obama a framework of principles that they hope will be included in CIR. This bipartisan group consists of eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans: Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

A Round Up of Ideas Offered by Proponents

The draft of the Senators’ proposed bill, entitled the “Immigration Innovation Act”, increases available H1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 visas every year. It will create a market-based H1B escalator, which will allow for additional visas if the cap is hit early during the filing season, with a ceiling of 300,000 visas. The visas will be adjusted based on market demands.

The 20,000 H1B visa cap for US Masters and PhD students will also be abolished, allowing the US employer to employ foreign students of US universities with advanced degrees without limit.

This bill will provide the ‘plug and play’ workers needed by all sectors of industry, whether it be healthcare or hospitality; workers who are ready to hit the ground running, and keep services for the American consumer consistently available.

In addition, there is a proposal to allow dependents of H1B visas to work on their H4 visas.  Of course, there will be an increase in the filing fee, dedicated to worker re-training at the state level in technical fields.

The senators’ framework stipulates that, before illegal US immigrants can attain “probationary legal status”, they must pass a background check, as well as pay fines and back taxes. Illegal immigrants with serious criminal backgrounds will not be eligible for legal status. Additionally, the framework states that illegal immigrants will not be granted work authorization until the government increases enforcement, such as expanded border surveillance, to protect and secure the nation’s borders.

The President’s Plan Is Not So Differrent

Obama’s proposal for immigration reform comes in four parts:

  1. Strengthen our borders;
  2. crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers;
  3. hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; and
  4. streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.

Earned Citizenship

Almost 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the US. Obama proposes to give undocumented immigrants the legal means necessary to earn citizenship, which will also persuade them to come out from hiding and pay their taxes and adhere to the rules. Illegal immigrants will be held accountable: before they can obtain citizenship, they must pass national security and criminal background checks, pay back taxes and penalties, learn English, and go to the back of the line. Young people will also have the chance to gain citizenship faster if they seek higher education or serve in the military.

Mandatory E-verify

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has introduced a mandatory E-Verify bill, which will require all employers to verify the authorized work status of their US workers. Today, the E-Verify system is voluntary; however, Sen. Grassley’s bill requires all employers to comply within 1 year of enactment. The bill will reduce employer’s liability for wrongful termination, and use E-verify to screen an applicant with his/her consent. The bill also imposes a mandate on the Social Security Administration to develop algorithms to detect multiple users of single Social Security numbers.

How will CIR help our economy?

Our economy demands legal immigration that is simple and adept, so that it encourages the best and the brightest to remain in the USA. A shorter wait for permanent resident status for the highly educated immigrants will boost the economy — if it is easier for STEM graduates to stay in the US, they will bolster and create industries, therefore creating jobs.

University education in the US will get a boost from the revenues generated by foreign students and their families; estimates put the revenue generated by foreign students at about $20 to $40 billion dollars every year. Often, American universities spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars educating these students, only to lose them to Canada, Australia, UK and Europe, or the students’ home countries. A chance for these students to remain in the US and pursue their academic and entrepreneurial dreams will add to the economy.

The taxes collected from the highly educated will help ensure that our Social Security and Medicare budgets are met. This revenue stream will be enhanced by offering a chance for a legalized workforce to pay employment-based taxes. These taxes will reduce the strain on American social systems, such as hospitals and schools. A legal workforce will be paid the mandated prevailing wage. Without a Social Security Number, a worker cannot open a bank account, buy car insurance, obtain a driver’s license, or attend school or college. Hence, a legalized workforce will provide a boost to the insurance, banking and finance industries, and increase wages for all, as employers will now pay the legal minimum wage.

The proposals all call for supplemental visas so that foreign entrepreneurs wanting to begin startups, and foreign graduate students with STEM degrees, will either come to the US to work or remain in the US post-graduation. We want, and need, the best and brightest minds for the US to flourish.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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