In a historic vote on Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 68-32, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill – Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. Welcoming the vote, President Obama stated that the bill, if finally enacted, would provide a big boost to US recovery, by shrinking deficits and growing US economy. The President stated, “Today, with a strong bipartisan vote, the United States Senate delivered for the American people, bringing us a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all… We have a unique opportunity to fix our broken system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We just need Congress to finish the job.”
The bill hopes to establish a stable, just and efficient immigration system and seeks to provide, among other things, a legal pathway to permanent residence and citizenship for many illegal immigrants, tougher border controls to eliminate and discourage future illegal immigration, and reforms to existing employment and family based immigration law to control the flow of legal immigration.
Some of the notable proposals contained in the final Senate bill include:
- Increase in H-1B cap to 115,000 in the first year with allowances for increases of 5,000 to 25,000 depending on the demand with a cap of 180,000.
- H-1B dependent employers will be required to advertise each H-1B position for at least 30 days on a newly created Department of Labor website and must offer the job to any equally or better qualified U.S. worker and H-1B dependent employers would be required to pay an additional $500 fee for each outsourced H-1B or L-1 worker.
- H-4 spouses would be eligible for employment authorization.
- 60-day grace period for terminated H-1B employees.
- L-1 employers could not outsource or outplace L-1 workers when 15% or more of FT employees are L-1’s.
- The Border Security Fee for L-1’s would be eliminated and a new $2500 fee would be imposed for ALL L-1 petitions.
- New Office L-1 will only be approved if employee was not a beneficiary of 2 or more new office petitions during preceding 2 years.
- New penalty fees if the number of H-1B and L-1 workers exceed 30% of workforce and prohibition on ability to hire additional H-1B workers if H-1B and L-1B workers exceed 75%.
- DHS would be authorized to conduct compliance investigations of L-1 employers, similar to H-1B employers.
- The employment based quota would remain at 140,000, but per-country limits would be eliminated and there would be an offset of additional visa numbers to clear the current backlog.
- A new merit-based visa program that does not require an employer, a job offer or labor certification.
- The current EB-1 category, individuals with a U.S. doctoral degree or foreign equivalent, certain US STEM Master’s degree holders, certain physicians, and derivative spouses and children of employment based petitions would not be subject to any quotas (unlimited number of visas for these individuals).
- A new $1000 labor certification filing fee and exemption from labor certification process for certain U.S. STEM degree holders.
- Adjustment of Status application can be filed concurrently with Immigrant Petition regardless of visa availability.
- Family based immigrant quota per country limits increased, eliminate category for siblings of USC’s and the spouse and children of an LPR would be considered immediate relatives and would no longer be subject to the quota.
- A clear but long pathway to legal permanent residency and citizenship for eligible illegal immigrants who would first be eligible to obtain registered provisional immigrant status.
- Those in RPI status will not be allowed to adjust to LPR status until certain border security timelines and goals are met (DREAMers and certain other individuals will be exempt from the hold).
With the passing of the bill by the Senate, the focus now shifts to the House of Representatives. Under the US legislative process, the bill must be approved the House of Representatives before it can be signed into law by the President of the US. It is unclear at the moment how the bill will fare in the Republican dominated House, especially when House Representatives have yet to reach any compromise on their version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill while others are working on piecemeal bills.