What you need to know about the Senate immigration reform bill

CAA has created a summary that explains the U.S. Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill. We hope this will help explain the 800+ page bill so that you understand how immigration reform will affect you. We have also translated this into Chinese.

We will provide more information as the proposal moves through the Senate and House.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions on Immigration Reform

(Download this FAQ as a PDF)

Two weeks ago a bipartisan group of U.S. senators submitted a proposal bill for immigration reform. The bill must face a long process of amendments and multiple rounds of votes in committee, and then in the full senate. It will not become law until it is passed by Congress and signed by the President. The provisions of this bill are not yet final and are not currently being enacted. Some forthcoming amendments may substantially change parts of the proposal. For any immigration law-related questions, please check government sources or non-profit community organizations.

(1) WHO WILL BE IMPACTED BY IMMIGRATION REFORM?

Undocumented Immigrants
The current draft of the bill provides a roadmap to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. The bill creates a new “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI) status.

To be eligible for RPI status, an individual must:

  • Have entered the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011,
  • Been continuously present in the U.S. up until the date of application,
  • Pay any assessed taxes and fees,
  • Not have been convicted of certain criminal offenses,
  • And pay a $500 fine (additional fines must be paid when RPI status is renewed after 6 years).

Individuals with RPI status:

  • May renew RPI status every 6 years. At renewal, applicants must show they have maintained regular employment or education, have paid taxes, and can support themselves.
  • May apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status after 10 years, and after 3 more years, may apply for citizenship. (Total roadmap to citizenship is at least 13 years.)
  • Will have work authorization.
  • Will be permitted to travel outside the country.
  • May apply for RPI status for their dependent children or his/her spouse.

Individuals who have been deported may qualify for a waiver to apply for RPI status and reunite with their families if:

  • they are the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or LPR,
  • or they have a child who is a U.S. citizen or LPR,
  • or they would be eligible for DREAM-related provisions (see below).

DREAMers
For young, undocumented immigrants who came here as children, (“DREAMers”), there is an expedited road to citizenship.

DREAM eligible applicants are those who:

  • Entered the U.S. before the age of 16,
  • Graduated from high school or received a GED in the U.S.,
  • And attended at least 2 years of college or served in the military for 4 years.
  • DREAMers will apply for RPI status (as outlined above), but can apply for lawful permanent residency after 5 years instead of 10.

Immigrant Families
Changes for family-based immigration include:

  • LPR spouses and children: The spouses and children of lawful permanent residents will be considered “immediate relatives” and their immigration applications are uncapped. Currently, only applications of spouses and children of U.S. citizens (not LPRs) are uncapped.
  • Adult married children: Immigration applications for adult married children of U.S. citizens will be limited to only adult married children age 31 and under.
  • Siblings: Family-based immigration for siblings will be eliminated. U.S. citizens with sibling petitions currently pending will be able to complete their application of sponsorship but the sibling category will be eliminated 18 months after the bill is enacted.
  • New “V” Visa: The bill creates a new nonimmigrant family “V” visa for families with approved family visa petitions to work and live in the U.S. while they wait for their green card. It will also allow other family members including siblings to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year.
  • Exclusion of same-sex families: The bill contains no language for same-sex binational couples to petition for their foreign partners.

Immigrant Workers
Changes to employment-based immigration:

  • Uncapped employment-visas for:
  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) graduates with doctoral degrees
  • Certain other professionals
  • Certain foreign doctors
  • Spouses and children of STEM graduates, certain other professionals, and certain foreign doctors
  • A new nonimmigrant “W” visa will be created for low-wage foreign workers who work for a registered employer in an occupation with a labor shortage. The visa will be for 3 years with the ability to renew for an additional 3 years. W visa holders are able to eventually apply for a green card through the new “merit-based” system. They can also switch to another registered employer and job at will. Dependents of W visa holders are able to join and receive work authorization.
  • Agricultural workers: Undocumented farm workers who can show a minimum amount of days and hours worked prior to the bill’s enactment will be eligible for an agricultural card (“blue card”). Farm workers with a blue card will then have an expedited 3-5 year path to lawful permanent resident status, if they meet certain work hour requirements.

Both Family- and Employment-Based Immigration
The bill creates a new “merit-based” system for both family- and employment-based immigration. The new merit system includes two tracks.

  • Track One immigrant visas: allocated based on a point system that takes into account numerous factors, including: employment experience, educational degrees, the needs of U.S. employers, if the applicant has any family ties to U.S. citizens, and age.
    • The bill provides for an initial 120,000 Track One visas.
    • If unemployment remains under 8.5%, the visa allocations could increase as much as 5% each year, but not to exceed 250,000 visas.
  • Track Two immigrant visas: available for individuals who have been lawfully present in the U.S. for over 10 years with work authorization, and also for family and employment petitions that have been pending for at least 5 years during a set period after enactment.

(2) WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO PEOPLE CURRENTLY WAITING IN THE VISA BACKLOGS?

The bill seeks to clear all family and employment-based visa backlogs over a 10 year period after enactment. Spouses and minor children of LPR’s will be immediately processed first. All other eligible individuals with a pending visa application will be processed in groups over the 10 year period. Individuals who are currently in the visa backlogs will obtain lawful permanent resident status before newly legalized RPI’s can obtain permanent resident status.

(3) WHAT CHANGES ARE HAPPENING AT THE BORDER?

Before legalization provisions begin (RPI status is granted) to undocumented immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security must certify that a new strategy for border security has begun. The bill outlines the following for the DHS border security plan:

  • 90% effectiveness: The bill requires within 6 months of enactment, that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security develop a plan to increase surveillance at high-risk border sectors and extend the existing border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The goal is to reach 90% effectiveness: apprehending 9 out of every 10 immigrants who attempt to unlawfully enter the country at these border sectors.
  • Commission: If 90% effectiveness is not reached in the first fiscal year, a Southern Border Security Commission will be established as an advisory body.
  • Funding Allocations: $3 billion is allocated for border agents and surveillance. $1.5 billion is allocated for fencing. If border security goals are not met after 5 years, an additional $2 billion will be allocated.
  • Border Patrol Trainings: New policies and trainings will be implemented (including a complaint procedure) for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers on proper use-of-force. All officers and federal law enforcement officials would be subject to anti-racial profiling provisions.
  • From RPI to LPR: Before an RPI can adjust to lawful permanent resident status, the secretary of DHS must:
    • Certify the border strategy has been “substantially deployed’ and is “substantially operational”’
    • Implement mandatory electronic employment eligibility verification (E-verify) for all employers in the U.S.’ and
    • State that DHS is using an electronic system to track who is entering and exiting the country at air and seaports

(4) WHAT ABOUT OTHER ENFORCEMENT MEASURES?

  • Employment Verification: The bill requires all U.S. employers to use the federal government’s Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), or “E-Verify” to verify newly hired employees have work authorization. The requirement is to be phased in over 5 years based on employer size. It will start with federal contractors and critical infrastructure employers. The program requires identity verification with enhanced green cards and fraud-proof work authorization cards.
  • Worker Provisions:
    • The bill specifies that immigration status cannot be a basis for denying the rightful payment of backpay or other labor damages.
    • It strengthens legal remedies for immigrant workers who have been wrongfully terminated or who experience workplace abuse.
    • The bill requires that an exit verification system be created to verify that immigrant workers who no longer have work authorization are exiting the U.S.

(5) WHAT OTHER CHANGES DOES THE BILL MAKE?

  • Diversity visa: The bill eliminates the Diversity Visa Program or the “Visa Lottery” as of October 1, 2014. Noncitizens who were selected in the lottery in the fiscal year of 2013 or 2014 will still be eligible to receive a diversity visa. The diversity visa is currently offered to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration.
  • TPS and DED: Immigrants who have been in the U.S. in lawful or employment-authorized status for at least 10 years are eligible to apply for LPR status. This includes those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). People with these statuses who have been here for more than 10 years can adjust status immediately.
  • Asylum and refugee program: The bill eliminates the arbitrary one-year filing deadline for applicants of asylee and refugee status.

(6) WILL THIS CHANGE ELIGIBILITY FOR PUBLIC BENEFITS?

Individuals with RPI status, agricultural “blue cards”, and V nonimmigrant visas will NOT be eligible for the following federal public benefit programs during their provisional status:

  • Non-emergency Medicaid
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Individuals with RPI status, agricultural “blue cards,” and V nonimmigrant visas can purchase private health insurance, at full cost, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They will NOT be eligible for the ACA’s premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions.

(7) WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN DETAINED OR DEPORTED?

Relating to immigration detention facilities:

  • The bill requires increased oversight to ensure proper treatment of immigrant detainees.
  • Alternative detention programs must be developed in consultation with community groups.

A waiver may apply for an individual who:

  • Left the U.S. due to an order of exclusion, deportation, removal, or voluntary departure; OR who re-entered unlawfully after December 31, 2011; AND
  • Is a spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen or LPR, or would otherwise be eligible for DREAM-related provisions.
  • Note: the bill also provides that the DHS secretary can waive certain restrictions for humanitarian purposes, to preserve family unity, or if it is in the national interest.

(8) DOES THE BILL MAKE ANY CHANGES FOR IMMIGRATION COURTS?

The bill includes changes for immigration judges and courts:

  • Immigration judges will have judicial discretion restored when evaluating removal cases.
  • The bar is lowered for granting waivers in removal proceedings. Judges will evaluate cases to see if the individual’s removal would cause hardship (not extreme hardship) to a U.S. citizen or LPR parent, spouse, or child.
  • The bill allocates more immigration judges, support staff, and Board of Immigration Appeals personnel to handle the backlogs in immigration court.

(9) WHEN WILL THE BILL BECOME LAW AND WHEN CAN PEOPLE BEGIN APPLYING FOR LEGALIZATION?

The bill was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate. Currently, Senators are proposing and debating amendments to the bill. If the committee votes to approve the bill, it will then go to the whole Senate for debate. At the full Senate, additional amendments can be made, and they will have a final vote. The House of Representatives must also pass an immigration bill.

If the House and Senate bills are not the same, the two bills will be worked on in a “conference committee” to settle any differences in the bill, and the bill will be sent back to both the House and Senate for final votes. Finally, the bill will be sent to the President to be signed into law.

If the President signs the bill, regulations must be written to implement the bill. This will take one year. After one year and the regulations have been written, the application period for legalization will begin. During the regulation period, individuals eligible for legalization will be protected from deportation.

No one can apply for legalization until the program application period begins. Individuals must be wary of any fraudulent legal services claiming otherwise. Please be sure information has come from a credible government or non-profit organization source.

(10) HOW WILL THIS IMPACT THE ASIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY?

Asian Americans have a lot at stake in this immigration reform debate. Asian immigrants have been subject to the most restrictive and discriminatory immigration policies in U.S. history, including the Chinese Exclusion Act and quotas limiting immigration from Asian countries.

Today, the Asian American community is disproportionately impacted by the visa backlogs in family-based immigration applications. Of the top five countries with visa backlogs, four are Asian countries: the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and China. Furthermore, the bill proposes drastic changes to our family immigration system, the immigration processes that have allowed our communities to grow and thrive here in the U.S. The current bill also impacts Asian American students, low- and high-skilled workers, immigrant detainees, asylees and refugees.

(Download this FAQ as a PDF)

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