Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill Moves On After Senate Judiciary Committee Passage

Last night, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 744 in a 13-5 vote.  The bill, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act will be reviewed and voted on by the entire Senate in the coming months.

The text of the bill can be found here:

The measure, introduced by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” would provide a path to citizenship for millions of persons residing in the United States who are either undocumented or without status, would create a new program for low-skilled foreign labor, and would increase the number of highly-skilled foreign workers allowed into the United States each year.

One particular provision in Senate Bill 744 would allow those living in the United States who are either undocumented or without status to obtain registered provisional immigrant status if they arrived in the United States prior to December 31, 2011, have maintained continuous presence, and do not have certain criminal convictions.  Registered provisional immigrant status can be renewed every six (6) years.   After ten years, a person holding registered provisional immigrant status can apply for a green if certain conditions have been met.

Also included in the bill are Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) amendments to the H-1B program.  The relevant provision of Senate Bill 744 would raise the minimum number of new H-1B petitions approved each year to 110,000 annually, and would cap the number of new H-1B petitions approved each year at 180,000 annually.  Removed from Senate Bill 744 were amendments that would require certain employers to conduct recruitment and offer certain technology sector jobs to United States workers prior to offering those jobs to a foreign national.  Another provision calls for annual compliance audits of employers with more than 100 employees in the United States where 15% or more of those employees are H-1B nonimmigrants; the findings of those audits would be made public.

Further, Senate Bill 744 establishes two tracks for merit based immigrant visas.  Under the first track, the total cap on merit-based immigrant visas will be 120,000 immigrant visas each fiscal year subject to a 5% increase each year depending on the number of applicants each year.  A second track will be available for employment-based immigrants who are the beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition filed before the date of the enactment of the Act (if passed), certain family-based immigrants, and certain long-term foreign nationals who have been lawfully present in the United States for not less than ten years.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) withheld an amendment that would allow United States Citizens and certain nonimmigrants and immigrants, the ability to apply for immigration benefits on behalf of their same-sex partners.  Leahy was urged by Democrats, and privately by White House officials, not to include his amendments during committee negotiations as there were concerns that the inclusion of certain same-sex provisions would derail negotiations with Senate Republicans.  Sources from the White House say that President Obama is not likely to veto a bill if that bill lacks protections for same-sex couples.

Other amendments that failed or were withdrawn include an attempt by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to delete the pathway to citizenship and a proposal by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) that would have expanded the ability of individuals to petition for green cards for their siblings and adult children over the age of 31 and living in extreme hardship.

Senate Bill 744 will be scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate is expected to begin floor debates on the measure in early June.  Though the Senate Judiciary Committee members are optimistic about the passage of the bill, debates are expected to last a month or more.  President Obama has said that the bill is “largely consistent with the principles of common-sense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system.”

Zelnick & Erickson will continue to provide updates on Comprehensive Immigration Reform as they become available.