Senate Approves Bill Overhauling Immigration Law


Last week the Senate passed its closely watched immigration reform bill, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, by a vote of 68-32.  The bill now will be considered by the Republican-controlled House, where it will need 218 votes to pass.  House opponents of the bill have criticized the border-security measures as insufficient and have also voiced concerns about the increased competition for American jobs. House Speaker John Boehner has already announced that he will not introduce any immigration bill that does not enjoy the support of a majority of House Republicans. If the House declines to pass the Senate’s version of the bill, it may consider its own bill. Alternatively, the House may decide to focus on piecemeal legislation.

The most controversial part of the Senate’s bill concerns the so-called “pathway to citizenship” that allows persons living illegally in the U.S. who arrived before 2012 to apply for provisional status, and eventually a green card and citizenship after residing in the U.S. for 13 years, meeting continuous presence and work requirements, learning English and paying various fees. Before the pathway to citizenship provisions can take effect, a border security plan must be in place. In particular, the Department of Homeland Security must increase the number of Border Patrol agents to at least 38,405, approximately double the current number; add approximately 350 miles of new fencing; install a system of surveillance towers, camera systems, drones, helicopters, and radiation detectors; and establish a biometric system to track people leaving the country at the nation’s 30 largest airports. These new security measures would cost approximately $40 billion.  If these security goals are not reached within five years, the federal government would create a Southern Border Security Commission to determine how to reach these targets.

The Senate bill also introduces the following changes for employers:

  • Requires mandatory e-verify for all employers with a photo-ID matching system.
  • Increases civil and criminal penalties for employers that knowingly hire, recruit, refer or continue to employ unauthorized immigrants.
  • Increases the cap on H-1B visas for high-skilled workers from 65,000 to 110,000 per year. The H-1B visa cap could then fluctuate up to 180,000 per year depending on demand. Business executives, athletes, professors, and graduates of U.S. universities with STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) degrees who have job offers will be excluded from the cap requirement, making more H-1B visas available.
  • Creates a new W visa with a cap of 200,000 visas per year for low-skilled workers in industries such as construction, hospitality and long-term care.
  • Allows agriculture workers who work in the industry for at least two years to qualify for green cards if they stay in the industry for another five years.
  • Creates a nonimmigrant investor visa for entrepreneurs whose businesses attract at least $100,000 in investment, generate $250,000 in annual revenue and create at least 3 jobs in the 2 year period prior to filing the application.
  • Creates an EB-6 immigrant investor visa for entrepreneurs with significant ownership in a U.S. business that has created at least 5 jobs and either received $500,000 in venture capital or investment, or generated $750,000 in annual revenues in the past 2 years.

Genova Burns Giantomasi and Webster will continue to monitor the progress of the immigration reform bill as it proceeds through the House and conference committee and will provide updates regarding proposed changes to the immigration law and the implications of these changes for your business.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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