Employment Law Update: Immigration Reform on the Hill

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This month, all American employers should keep a watchful eye on the debate on comprehensive immigration reform. The expansive bill that has taken center stage on the floor of the U.S. Senate, will impact recruiting and hiring practices, benefits packages and HR management processes for most U.S. companies. The bill not only seeks to legalize 11 million undocumented U.S. residents, but also, for example, requires electronic verification of the legal status of all new hires and will determine whether legalized immigrants can receive health care insurance and other benefits. In addition, the bill will create thousands of visas under new and expanded programs for agricultural workers, lower-skilled guest workers and high-skilled workers, and it makes important changes to many existing visa categories, such as additional recruitment requirements for all employers seeking to hire a foreign national under the popular H-1B visa program.

After a thorough review and amendment process in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2013” to the Senate floor for three weeks of debate in early June. He promises to hold a final vote on the bill prior to the July 4th recess. In the deliberative style of the Senate, debate will cover a wide range of issues, but votes will only be held on a limited number of amendments.

At present, the bipartisan Group of 7 in the House continues to work on drafting a comprehensive bill. As the Senate completes its work, pressure is building on the House to move legislation and the Republican caucus is beginning to respond. Under the leadership of Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Republican members have introduced topic-specific bills on core areas of reform–such as the E-Verify employment verification system, agricultural workers, and high-skilled workers. Two of these bills were marked up this week, and the third is scheduled for a markup next week. A substantial border security bill passed the Homeland Security Committee last month.

Speaker John Boehner and others in the House leadership have promised their members that they will not take up the Senate bill in the House, and that they will only pass a bill in the House that enjoys the support of the majority of the Republican caucus. Exactly what bills will be passed on the floor and how this process will be managed remains to be seen. There is still a possibility that these bills could be merged and conferenced with a Senate bill, if bills pass in both chambers. Should a comprehensive immigration reform bill pass Congress and be signed into law, it will have a strong impact on how hiring and benefits are handled by all American employers in the foreseeable future. Policy advisors to the Employment Law practice group at Patton Boggs continue to monitor the progress of this important legislation and provide periodic updates to clients and other interested entities.