On April 17th, the group of Senators known as the "Gang of Eight" introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, a comprehensive immigration reform bill, in the U.S. Senate. This bipartisan measure includes significant and wide-ranging changes to the nation's current immigration system, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and key structural changes to temporary visas and employment verification requirements, as well as a new visa for low-skilled labor. Below is a summary of the key changes proposed in the new legislation, was also presented by the "Gang of Eight" in a press conference today. Greenberg Traurig will continue to monitor developments surrounding comprehensive immigration reform and provide additional updates about issue-specific proposals as we continue to assess the proposed changes contemplated by this bill.

Legalization for Undocumented Immigrants

The proposed legislation would permit unlawfully present individuals who entered the U.S. on or prior to December 31, 2011 to obtain Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. Such individuals would need to pay a penalty and back taxes. However, they would be permitted to apply for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status after ten years as well as eventual naturalization. Agricultural workers and DREAM Act-eligible applicants would receive the benefit of expedited eligibility for the benefits above.

Family-Based Immigration

The proposed legislation would transfer the FB-2A visa category applicable to the spouses and children of U.S. Legal Permanent Residents to the FB-2A category currently in effect for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, eliminate the FB-4 category for the siblings of U.S. citizens, and limit the age of eligibility for the married children of U.S. citizens to 31 years old. The bill would also reinstate the V visa for the spouses and children of Lawful Permanent Residents.

Employment-Based Immigration

The proposed legislation would exempt EB-1 immigrants, individuals with doctoral degrees, physicians who have completed the foreign residency requirements and derivatives from the annual quota. A new EB-6 category for certain classes of entrepreneurs would also be introduced.

H-1B Non-Immigrant Visas

The proposed legislation would increase the current annual quota of 65,000 H-1B visas to 110,000, with a yearly ceiling of 180,000 visas. The bill would increase the number of visas available to holders of advanced degrees from the current 20,000 visas to 25,000, with the caveat that this allotment be allocated toward STEM graduates only. The H-1B application process would also undergo major structural changes, including the introduction of a recruitment requirement for all Labor Condition Applications on a website managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, a non-displacement attestation, and a change to formula for calculating the prevailing wage. Significantly, H-4 dependents would also have access to employment authorization and H-1B holders would enjoy a 60-day grace period to find new sponsorship after termination.

Low and Lesser Skilled Labor

The new legislation aims to create a W visa for lesser-skilled non-agricultural workers (W-1), temporary agricultural workers who perform work under a written contract (W-2), and "at-will" workers who receive a full-time employment offer in an agricultural field (W-3). The new W visa program would supplant the current H-2A agricultural worker program.

Immigration Compliance

The new legislation would make E-Verify, the federal government's Web-based employment eligibility verification system, mandatory for all employers across the nation. The phase-in period, ranging from 90 days to 4 years, would vary according to the company's number of employees. In addition, the bill includes language indicating that employers will be presumed to have knowingly hired an unauthorized worker if they do not verify the individual's work authorization via E-Verify after their mandatory enrollment date. The new bill would also permit employers to utilize a three-day grace period for re-verifying the work authorization of employees with expired work authorization. It also calls for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to create tamper-resistant Social Security Cards to combat document fraud.