The U.S. Senate has recently suspended consideration of a proposed immigration reform bill. It is possible that the Senate may in the future consider immigration reform proposals again. The bill that was recently proposed would have had a significant impact on immigrants, employers and the permanent residence process. Some of the key provisions of the Senate bill included:
- Elimination of current employment-based immigrant visa categories. The bill proposed a new "point-based" system that awards points for education and professional experience, English language skills and family ties. It eliminated preference categories for executives, managers, researchers and those working in the national interest. The business community has raised significant concerns about the feasibility of the point system and its ability to meet the needs of the labor market.
- Elimination of most family-based immigrant visa categories. The bill proposed to redefine "immediate relatives" to exclude parents of U.S. citizens, creating a separate category for parents of U.S. citizens with only a limited number of visas available. It would also eliminate other family preference categories, leaving only the category for spouses and minor children of permanent residents.
- Restrictions on H-1B visas and heightened requirements for employers. The bill proposed an increase in the number of visas available to 115,000 for fiscal year 2008 and future increases based on demand. Additional proposals included increasing the application fees by $5,000, requiring employers to conduct recruitment for H-1B workers and requiring attestation requirements for all H-1B employers regarding non-displacement of U.S. workers for six months before and after filing of the H-1B petition.
- Increased penalties and enforcement. The bill included a significant increase in resources for border security, enforcement and detention. The bill proposed increased penalties for immigration and criminal violations, increased worksite enforcement and penalties for employers, and mandatory participation in an electronic employment eligibility system for all U.S. employers. The bill also severely limited judicial review of administrative decisions and detention.
- Temporary guest worker program. The bill proposed a new "Y" visa for temporary guest workers and seasonal workers who would be matched to "willing employers" unable to fill positions. The "Y" visa has strict limits on period of stay to two years. Applicants who are not accompanied by spouses or children may apply for an additional two-year stay only after leaving the U.S. for one year. Any overstay beyond the two years results in a permanent bar to any future immigration benefit.
- New "Z" visa for undocumented workers to apply for legalization. The bill proposed a new temporary "Z" visa for individuals illegally present in the U.S. before January 1, 2007. Applicants must be currently employed, undergo background checks and pay penalties and fees of $5,000 to be eligible for permanent residence after leaving the U.S. and applying under the new immigrant visa "point-based" system.
For more details regarding the text of the bill, legislative updates, and information about how you can contact Congress, please visit the American Immigration Lawyers Association website at www.aila.org.