After years of talk, the U.S. Congress came perilously close, in 2013, to passing a comprehensive new law meant to reform the U.S. immigration system. As of mid-2015, however, nothing had happened. This article will serve as a review of what was intended, as historical background in case Congress manages to focus on this once again!
The Senate bill would have granted residency to noncitizens who could prove that they were employed in the U.S. for at least 575 hours (100 days) before December 31, 2012.
Applicants would have had to pay all back taxes. If their employer kept “proper and adequate records,” these would have been enough to prove having worked during the requisite time period. If not, the applicant would have needed to come up with other evidence showing the extent of their employment.
Workers who were approved were to have received 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 have also been eligible for permanent residence (a green card) after five years of continued agricultural employment. Their spouses and children would receive the same benefits.
The Senate bill would have granted 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. would not count against the continuous presence requirement, but you would have needed to be in the U.S. to apply for this status. Applicants would 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 would 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 was awarded provisional resident status.
This provisional status was to be renewable if the person continued to be in school or employed in the U.S. at above the poverty line. Provisional residents were to be allowed to apply for permanent residence (a green card) after ten years — but only if the U.S. family- and employment-visa backlogs had been resolved and the U.S. borders had been secured. Applicants for a green card in this category would have needed to pay a $1,000 penalty fee, prove that they had accrued a certain number of points on a new “merit-based system” (which would be separately established as a new type of visa), have been regularly employed in the U.S., and have learned or be learning English and the same U.S. history and government information as is required to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Noncitizens who entered the U.S. when they were younger than 16, had earned a high school diploma, GED, college degree, or had served honorably in the Armed Forces for at least four years, and who had successfully been registered as provisional immigrants (see above) for at least five years were to be given an opportunity to apply for U.S. green cards (lawful permanent residence).
Green card approval would have been 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.
Again, comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t happened yet and it may never be passed at all. 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.