By Grace Alano
This week, the Senate is likely to introduce the comprehensive immigration reform bill. This post focuses on probationary legal status and visas for low-skilled workers, as those are two of the areas of comprehensive immigration reform that are the most fleshed-out so far. A discussion of how immigration reform will impact high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs will be in another post once there are more details.
PROBATIONARY LEGAL STATUS
The Senate Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform provides that the government will require people to initially register with them. The process will include passing a background check and paying a fine and back taxes, in order to earn probationary legal status. It is unclear what the amount of the fine will be. Probationary legal status will allow people who register to live and work legally in the United States. People with criminal backgrounds should consult with an attorney before attempting to apply, as the Bipartisan Framework has made clear that those with serious criminal backgrounds will be placed in deportation proceedings. Those in probationary legal status will not be able to access federal public benefits.
Individuals with probationary legal status “will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.” Specifically, the senators have agreed to a 13-year path to citizenship. It would take 10 years for those in probationary legal status to get a green card, and then another three years to gain citizenship.
“DREAMers” – children brought into the U.S. when very young – and agricultural workers, will not have to wait in the same line – theirs will be shorter. The rationale is that as young children, they did not have the mental capacity to commit immigration violations. With regards to farm workers, there is a shortage of native-born U.S. workers who are willing and able to do farm work. Farm workers may be able to apply for resident status after five years.
What is unclear at this point is how people who do not have criminal convictions, but may have previously misrepresented themselves or committed some kind of fraud, may fare. Will it be possible for them to apply for probationary legal status, but 10 years down the line be unable to apply for residency? Will those people be able to apply for fraud waivers? These are still unanswered questions.
GUEST WORKER PROGRAM
There will be a new “W” visa for workers doing low-skill jobs. The W visa would affect housekeepers, landscapers, caregivers, retail workers and some construction workers. The visa program may possibly launch in April 2015. The number of visas issued would never go below 20,000 per year and could rise as high as 200,000 annually, depending on employment levels. In other words, they would rise and fall with the economy. One third of the visas would be reserved for businesses that employ fewer than 25 people, while no more than 15,000 visas per year would go to construction workers. The petition/application process is still unclear.
Photo by ttarasiuk.