Senate Immigration Reform Proposal Unveiled

By:  Leigh Cole, Esq.
Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew PC
Burlington, Vermont

Eight U.S. senators from both parties unveiled a much-anticipated bipartisan immigration reform bill yesterday.  A bipartisan group of Members of Congress is prepared to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The 844-page bill introduced yesterday contains a variety of reform measures, including mandatory E-Verify participation, a new agricultural worker visa that finally will enable dairy farmers to employ migrant farm labor legally, new employment-based and investor visa options, provisions to eliminate visa queues and backlogs, a legalization for undocumented individuals, and changes to the H-1B visa program for specialty occupation workers, among others.

Mandatory E-Verify participation is bound to be controversial with employers, but it has been a priority of U.S. regulators for some time.  An E-Verify mandate requires Congressional action.  The good news is that employers participating in E-Verify voluntarily or as federal contractors have reported good experience in recent years, so mandatory participation may not pose much of a problem beyond the addition of yet another regulatory requirement to follow when hiring new employees.  The H-1B proposals are particularly noteworthy for our firm’s practice.  We handle H-1B cases throughout the year for our many clients that are colleges, universities and certain types of nonprofits exempt from the H-1B cap, in addition to H-1B cap cases for other employers.  The reform bill would increase the number of H-1B visas available each year, apply a formula to determine the exact number of H-1B visas needed to support the U.S. economy, add a new recruitment requirement and allow spouses of H-1B workers to have employment authorization if their home country offers a comparable benefit for U.S. nationals.  Another measure in the bill would afford lawful permanent residency to the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents, which long has been a source of frustration and despair.  It’s hard to believe that lawful permanent residents have had to wait for many years for their spouses and minor children to join them, perhaps even after waiting for many years to become permanent residents themselves, but that’s a fact.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the immigration reform proposal tomorrow and Monday, April 22.  The Chair of the Judiciary Committee, our own Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said yesterday that “[g]etting this done is one of my highest priorities for the Judiciary Committee and is one of the reasons that I decided to continue to chair the committee” this year even though as the senior member of the U.S. Senate he had his pick of committee assignments.  We are watching the developments in Congress and hoping for passage of immigration reform legislation that addresses the major problems in U.S. immigration policy and procedures, including the employment-based immigration issues that are vitally important to our clients.

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