What’s in the Senate Immigration Reform Proposal for Undocumented Immigrants

It's not quite an amnesty, but will likely contain similar provisions for farmworkers, long-term undocumented immigrants, and students.

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After years of talk, it looks as though the U.S. Congress may actually pass a comprehensive new law meant to reform the U.S. immigration system. The first thing that’s important to note here is that it hasn’t happened yet – and even if it does happen, it won’t be final until versions of the legislation have been passed by both the House and the Senate, then these two versions have been combined into one law and signed by the U.S. President. And even after all that takes place, existing draft versions of the Senate bill indicate that the opportunities for U.S. status contained within won’t go into effect right away. (For one thing, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will need time to create the various forms and systems for accepting applications – a process which typically takes months.)

As of late April 2013, the U.S. Senate was reportedly taking the lead on crafting the legislation (though the House was already considering possibilities) The Senate had issued a draft bill in mid-April that included the following provisions of interest to undocumented immigrants.

Path to U.S. Residency for Agricultural Workers in the U.S.

The Senate bill would grant residency to noncitizens who can prove that they were employed in the U.S. for at least 575 hours (100 days) before December 31, 2012.

Applicants will have to pay all back taxes. If their employer kept “proper and adequate records,” these will be enough to prove having worked during the requisite time period. If not, the applicant will need to come up with other evidence showing the extent of their employment.

Workers who are approved would receive a so-called “blue card,” a photo ID allowing them to live and work in the United States, as well as to travel (no more than 180 days at a time) and return. Blue card holders would be eligible for permanent residence (a green card) after five years of continued agricultural employment. Their spouses and children would receive the same benefits.

Provisional Residency for Noncitizens Who Entered the U.S. Before 2011

The Senate bill would grant so-called “provisional residency” to noncitizens who lived in the the U.S. before December 31, 2011 and maintained continuous physical presence in the U.S. until submitting their immigration application and being approved for provisional residency. Brief, innocent, and casual departures from the U.S. will not count against the continuous presence requirement, but you will need to be in the U.S. to apply for this status. Applicants will also need to pay off any back taxes.

Approved applicants would receive a photo ID good for up to six years, allowing them to live and work in the United States, as well as to travel (no more than 180 days at a time) and return. Spouses and children will be eligible to receive the same benefit if they were in the U.S. on or before December 30, 2011 and on the date the primary applicant is awarded provisional resident status.

This provisional status will be renewable if the person continues to be in school or employed in the U.S. at above the poverty line. Provisional residents will be allowed to apply for permanent residence (a green card) after ten years — but only if the U.S. family- and employment-visa backlogs have been resolved and the U.S. borders have been secured. Applicants for a green card in this category will need to pay a $1,000 penalty fee, prove that have accrued a certain number of points on a new “merit-based system” (which will be separately established as a new type of visa), have been regularly employed in the U.S., and have learned or are learning English and the same U.S. history and government information as is required to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Quicker Path to Provisional Residency for DREAMers

Noncitizens who entered the U.S. when they were younger than 16, have earned a high school diploma, GED, college degree, or have served honorably in the Armed Forces for at least four years, and who have successfully been registered as provisional immigrants (see above) for at least five years can apply for U.S. green cards (lawful permanent residence).

Green card approval will be conditional on passing the same tests of one’s English language ability and knowledge of U.S. history and government as are required of people applying to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

Consult an Attorney With Questions

Again, comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t happened yet. Keep your eyes on the news and Nolo’s website, and talk to an experienced immigration attorney for details. Whatever you do, don’t fall for scams in which people promise results before the date the law is actually in effect.

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