As has been widely reported, last week the White House and a bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) legislation. The current CIR proposal would amend the pending Senate Bill S. 1348. The bill is far-reaching and will have an impact on all aspects of immigration law affecting legal immigration, as well as the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented population.

Debate on the bill, and possible amendments, is under way in the Senate and expected to accelerate after the Memorial Day break. If the Senate passes the CIR bill, action will shift to the House of Representatives, where a competing bill should work its way through the committee process and onto the floor for a vote. If a House bill passes, it will go to conference and possible reconciliation with the Senate bill. This legislative process is expected to last through the summer months and into the fall.

We have summarized some of the key provisions of the “Grand Bargain” compromise below. Of course, passage of any CIR legislation is far from certain and faces many political hurdles, and all of the provisions outlined here are subject to change or elimination from the final bill.

  • The bill replaces the current I-9 employment verification requirements with an Electronic Eligibility Verification System that reduces the types of documents acceptable for verification of identity and work authorization. Most employers would be required to run new hires through the system within 18 months of passage and thereafter reverify all existing employees no later than three years after passage of the legislation. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have the authority to require any employer to participate in the system immediately upon passage.
  • It raises penalties for hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens to US$5,000 per unauthorized alien, with a US$75,000 maximum. Recordkeeping or verification practices violations would range from US$1,000 to US$15,000 per violation. Criminal penalties would include fines up to US$75,000 and imprisonment up to six months.
  • The bill creates a new Y-1 visa (guest worker) category and amends the current H-2A and H- 2B temporary worker programs by establishing Y-2A and Y-2B visas. A Y-1 visa holder would be permitted a maximum of three two-year periods of admission, but would be required to leave the United States for one year after each two-year period.
  • It raises the H-1B visa cap for fiscal year 2008 to 115,000 and provides for the issuance of a new regulation permitting DHS to raise the cap up to 180,000 in any subsequent fiscal year. However, the bill significantly restricts the H-1B visa by repealing recent liberalizing amendments and requiring all H-1B employers to attest to nondisplacement of US workers and good-faith recruitment prior to petitioning for a visa. Employers would be prohibited from employing more than 50 percent of their work forces on the H-1B visa.
  • It imposes new restrictions on L-1 visas for “new offices” or start-up companies and gives DHS authority to initiate investigations regarding compliance with the L-1 visa program.
  • It replaces the current employment preference categories with a new merit-based system to select future immigrants based on the skills and attributes they will bring to the United States. Under the merit-based system, future immigrants applying for permanent residency will be assigned points for skills, education and other attributes.
  • The bill eliminates family preference categories except for spouses and children of permanent residents. Preference petitions filed prior to May 1, 2005 would continue and an annual allotment of 440,000 visas would be available to process the backlog of family-based categories.
  • It creates a new four-year, renewable “Z” non-immigrant visa to address the undocumented population within the United States. An alien seeking Z-1 status would be required to be currently employed and to pay fees and penalties totaling US$5,000. In addition, a Z-1 nonimmigrant would be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence only after the family backlog was eliminated, if the Z applicant satisfied the merit (point) requirements, returned to his or her home country to file for an immigrant visa and paid a US$4,000 fine.