Update Regarding Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Update Regarding Comprehensive Immigration Reform

On December 15, Representative Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) in the House of Representatives. To date, the bill has 92 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats, and addresses border security and enforcement, visa backlogs, and earned legalization of undocumented individuals.

Key Employment-Based Immigration Provisions

Recapture of Unused Immigrant Visas - Currently, 140,000 foreign nationals are permitted to immigrate to the U.S. each year under the EB preference system. If less than 140,000 visa numbers are used by the end of the fiscal year, the unused numbers are lost. As a result, in most years, 20,000 to 30,000 visa numbers are lost. CIR ASAP would allow the remaining visa numbers to be carried over to the next fiscal year. In addition, all the visa numbers, which were lost during the past seventeen fiscal years, would be "recaptured" to clear the current backlogs in the system. The recaptured visas are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Exemptions from the Annual Visa Cap – CIR ASAP would make the following categories of immigrants exempt from the annual EB visa cap:

  1. Schedule A - Shortage Occupations - Registered Nurses and Physical Therapists;
  2. STEM workers - Persons with M.S. or Ph.D. degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics who have worked in the U.S.;
  3. Recipients of Masters or higher degrees from U.S. universities;
  4. Recipients of medical specialty certification based on postdoctoral training and experience in the United States;
  5. Persons with approved National Interest Waivers; and
  6. Spouses and children of those persons in the above categories.

Early Applications for Adjustment of Status – Currently, foreign nationals with approved I-140 petitions must wait until their priority dates become current before they can apply for adjustment of status (I-485 application). CIR-ASAP would allow foreign nationals with approved I-140s to immediately apply for adjustment of status, and to obtain both work permits and travel authorization in three-year increments. Individuals who apply for adjustment of status before their priority dates are current will be subject to a $500 surcharge.

Exemptions from PERM – Currently, certain EB immigrants are exempt from the PERM requirement. CIR-ASAP would exempt two additional groups from PERM:

  1. Recipients of medical specialty certification based on postdoctoral training and experience in the US; and
  2. Recipients of Masters or higher degrees from U.S. universities.

Increase in Per-Country Limitations - The number of EB visas available to foreign nationals from a single country during a fiscal year would be increased from 7% of the total (9,800) to 10% (14,000).

Prospects for CIR ASAP

While CIR-ASAP is the first comprehensive immigration reform bill to be introduced since President Obama assumed office a year ago, its provisions are generally viewed as too liberal for the bill to gain any serious bipartisan support. The politically charged nature of the immigration debate could lead some Democrats and many Republicans to shy away from voting for any immigration reform bill. At the same time, a crowded legislative agenda, which includes health-care reform, the overhauling of current financial systems, climate change, and jobs, is likely taking precedence over any immigration reform legislation.