While discussion of the so-called “fiscal cliff” has dominated headlines and the attention of the White House, proposals to reform the nation’s immigration laws have been introduced and pushed forward by several Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
On Nov. 27, 2012, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced the Assisting Children and Helping Improve Educational Value for Employment (ACHIEVE) Act. The legislation, if enacted, would offer legal status to eligible undocumented youth who came to the United States as children. The bill (S. 3639) proposes to provide legal status to young undocumented immigrants through a three-step visa process.
“Many young people in this country are here illegally through no fault of their own. Relegating a potentially productive portion of the population to the shadows is neither humane nor good economic or social policy,” Sen. Kyl said in a written statement. “Only those who have abided by our nation’s laws, while residing within its borders, would be eligible for continued legal status, and there is no automatic path to citizenship.”
In August 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that provides young undocumented immigrants legal status and work permits if they are younger than 30 and came to the United States before age 16. The ACHIEVE Act as introduced by the Republican senators would create a more formalized and regimented system than the process set up by the president’s executive order.
According to the legislation, W-1 visas would be available to the undocumented youths who attend school to earn college or vocational degrees or who agree to serve in the U.S. military for four years. To qualify, applicants must reside in the U.S. five years prior to the bill’s passage and have entered the country before the age of 14. Applicants who have been convicted of a felony would be ineligible to participate in the visa program.
After finishing their education or military service requirements for the W-1, applicants would then become eligible to receive a W-2 work visa that would allow them to work in the United States for four years. Once the four years of work on a W-2 visa were completed, applicants would become eligible for a renewable W-3 work visa; however, no pathway to U.S. citizenship would be available under the ACHIEVE Act proposal.
Sources familiar with the issue say that the Republicans’ effort to push forward immigration reform is a response to the 2012 election, when nearly 70 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama. Many GOP candidates during the election campaign, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, took a hardline stance on immigration issues. Romney was quoted as saying that all undocumented immigrants should leave the United States by “self-deportation” and then reapply for legal entry.
According to some political analysts, the reform proposals offered by Republicans during the “lame duck” session of Congress demonstrate that GOP leaders are softening their stances on immigration issues. On Nov. 30, 2012, the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429). If enacted, the proposal would make up to 55,000 visas available to qualified immigrants who have advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM degrees) from a U.S. university and agree to work for at least five years in the United States in a STEM-related field.
The proposal was approved largely down party lines. Democrats objected to a provision in the bill that would eliminate a visa lottery program that allows workers from various nations and backgrounds to apply for U.S. work visas.
While the ACHIEVE Act and the STEM Jobs Act have strong support among GOP members of Congress, both bills face an uphill battle in the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats. In addition, the White House has indicated that the president would veto both proposals and instead wants to concentrate on enacting a comprehensive immigration reform package in 2013.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.
Obama ‘Deferred Action’ Initiative Proves Problematic for Employers, SHRM Online Staffing Management, Nov. 2, 2012
President Signs Visa Reauthorization Bill, SHRM Online Staffing Management, Oct. 1, 2012
Proposed Changes to Immigration Form Raise Privacy Concerns, SHRM Online Legal Issues, Aug. 21, 2012
Report: U.S. Immigration Policies Turning Away Global Talent, SHRM Online Global HR, June 25, 2012
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Will Require Bipartisanship, SHRM Online Legal Issues, May 16, 2012
Verifying Eligibility to Work in the United States under Federal and State Law, SHRM Online Tools & Templates, Dec. 1, 2011
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