• Related Professionals -

eLABORate: Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposed in 2013

February 01, 2013

Lawmakers unveiled bipartisan proposals to rewrite U.S. immigration law on Monday and Tuesday of this week. According to the reform proposal released by eight senators on Monday, a complete overhaul of the current immigration system would be enacted, and their goal is to do so in 2013. The plan of the eight senators includes four principal reform measures that would directly impact U.S. employers: 

  1. Creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the U.S.
  2. Reforming the immigration system to better recognize characteristics that will help build the economy.
  3. Implementing an effective employment verification system.
  4. Establishing an improved process for admitting future workers.

While the senators' plan lays a general framework for comprehensive immigration reform, it is not a bill and, of course, must pass through an uncertain legislative process. The senators sponsoring the proposal established a timetable for themselves that would require presentation of a detailed immigration reform bill by March and the passing of legislation in the Senate by the end of July. Accounting for time to pass a bill through Congress and negotiate differences, that schedule would allow the President to sign a new law by the end of 2013, before the 2014 midterm election year begins.

President Obama also announced a plan for comprehensive immigration reform on Tuesday. The President's plan includes what he describes as an earned path to legal status that eventually could be converted to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States. That plan would include (among other things):

  1. Reducing visa wait times for employers and prospective employers.
  2. Granting permanent residence cards (or "green cards") to graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
  3. Creating a "startup visa" for job-creating entrepreneurs.
  4. Expanding opportunities for investors contributing to U.S. economic development.

If some version of immigration reform legislation along the lines of the President's or the senators' proposal passes, the impact on employers would be significant, both in terms of potentially expanding the available entrance visas for employers seeking skilled foreign workers, and by enhancing enforcement provisions to target employers that fail or refuse to verify the lawful work status of their employees.

Accordingly, employers should stay abreast of reform developments. For example, employers in the agricultural and hospitality industries should monitor the development of provisions involving guestworker programs concerning H-2A and H-2B visas. Additionally, employers should stay abreast of proposed modifications to verification procedures such as Form I-9 and E-Verify, which may become mandatory if a comprehensive immigration reform law is enacted.

The President's and the eight senators' plans have many similarities, and given the measure of bipartisan support reflected initially, there is some expectation that comprehensive immigration reform may become a reality in 2013. Stay tuned for further developments.