On April 16, the bi-partisan group of eight U.S. senators unveiled The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which traces a 13-year path to citizenship for many of the 11 million individuals currently in the United States illegally, earmarks billions of dollars for border security and, of course, includes provisions with significant ramifications for the workplace.
First and foremost, the legislation contains stipulations that “would serve to increase employers’ access to authorized workers,” says Leigh Ganchan, a Houston-based attorney with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.
For example, the Senate bill mandates that all employers use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new employees. Employers with less than 5,000 employees must phase in the system over a five-year time frame, while those with more than 5,000 must do so within two years.
The E-Verify program itself could be in for an overhaul as well, with proposed enhancements including a photo-matching tool and capabilities for employees to essentially lock their Social Security numbers in the system to prevent misuse. Non-citizens would be required to carry biometric work authorization cards, with pictures that employers would have to certify as matching with photos in the E-Verify system.
The bill also proposes increasing the cap on the number of H-1B visas from 85,000 to 205,000, and creates up to 200,000 “W visas” per year, issued for individuals to work in retail, construction, hospitality and janitorial jobs.
Immediate reaction to the bill—which the U.S. Senate could act on as early as this June—has been mixed. Opponents say the bill’s passage would add to an already crowded pool of candidates for American jobs. Business and labor groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, however, have thrown their support behind proposed efforts to usher in new visa programs for low- and high-skilled workers. President Obama, who on Tuesday described the legislation as a “compromise,” but containing “common-sense steps that the majority of Americans support,” has urged Congress to move swiftly.
The legislation’s fate remains to be seen, but its prospects for passage “seem very good,” according to Ganchan.
“With heavy hitters in the Senate such as Senator Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Reid (D-NV), Senate majority leader, committed to making time to get the immigration bill debated and voted on, the outlook is more favorable than we’ve seen in years,” she says. “Moreover, House leaders such as House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) have signaled their readiness to engage in meaningful debate. With both parties and both sides of Congress working together, we might see results sooner than later.”