The highly anticipated immigration reform bill has been formally introduced by a bi-partisan group of Senators. The proposal for significant changes to the nation’s immigration system (consisting of almost 850 pages), the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, includes provisions for increased border security, legalization for individuals present in unlawful status, and modernization of the legal immigration system. 

The legalization-for-individuals component of the bill, if passed, would allow individuals unlawfully present in the U.S. to adjust their status to “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” (“RPI”) if they meet certain criteria and pay a penalty. They must have resided in the United States prior to December 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since that date. In addition to paying a $500 penalty, these individuals cannot have been convicted of certain crimes. RPI status, if granted, would last for a six-year term, renewable if the immigrant does not commit any deportable acts; after 10 years, these individuals may adjust to lawful permanent resident (“green card”) status if they meet certain listed criteria.

The bill also proposes the following:

  • eliminating the immigrant visa backlog for family- and employment-based immigrants; 
  • creating a merit-based system that ultimately will be a points system to award visas; 
  • exempting from the annual numerical immigrant visa limits extraordinary and outstanding immigrants, multinational managers and executives, certain physicians, and doctoral degree holders in any field; and
  • classifying children and spouses of lawful permanent residents under the “immediate relative” category (which currently includes only children, parents, and spouses of U.S. citizens).

Further, the proposed bill includes an employment verification provision requiring all employers to begin using the E-Verify system over a five-year phase-in period. 

If passed, the new law would raise the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 110,000 and amend the exemption for U.S. advanced degree holders from 20,000 to 25,000 for advanced degree graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The bill allows for a cap increase of up to 180,000 if such a need is determined to exist. 

Creation of a W-visa program for lower-skilled workers also is proposed. This visa type would apply to individuals having foreign residence who will come to the U.S. to perform services or labor for registered employers. The bill creates a new entity, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, to determine the annual cap for W visas, determine occupations with labor shortages, expand the list of recruitment methods registered employers may use to locate qualified, willing, and able U.S. workers, and make yearly recommendations to Congress on how to further reform the program to bolster the U.S. economy.

The proposed bill also would allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status through an Agricultural Card Program. Qualifying agricultural workers would have to pay a fine prior to any adjustment to permanent resident status. 

Finally, the bill includes enhanced border security provisions, such as by authorizing funds for an additional 3,500 Customs agents nationwide, a process for creating border security accountability, and border crossing prosecutions.