Category Archives: immigration

New Immigration Bill Proposes Big Changes

Capitol buildingAfter months of negotiation, the Gang of Eight has finally emerged to introduce its long-awaited plan to revamp U.S. immigration laws.

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.”


The Costs of Coming to America

As unions and business groups squabble over the number of H-1B visas, the fee of those visas have increased about 600 percent, according to news reports.

To pay for border security, a bill signed by President Barack Obama last week increases the H-1B visa fee from $320 to $2,320.

The fees seem to offend just about every constituency. The business community, especially Silicon Valley firms, say it will hurt their organizations’ ability to recruit top talent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Indian outsourcing companies say the law specifically discriminates against them as “the carefully crafted criteria” in the bill seems to target them.

Outraged companies may bring a suit before the World Trade Organization, contending the fees are protectionist, while other experts say that, instead of being protectionist, the fees will actually lead to more outsourcing of jobs overseas.

The increased fees are designed to raise about $200 million a year. “The money raised is insigificant and the damage [to America’s reputation] is huge,” Vivek Wadhwa, an immigrations expert and professor, told the WSJ.

Vigilante Anti-Illegal Immigrationists?

Here’s a new twist in the ongoing fracas over immigration. Came across this piece in Thursday’s New York Times about residents of a small town in Nebraska who are so fit-to-be-tied over illegal immigrants in their midst that they forced a vote on the issue — fighting off challenges by some of their elected leaders all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Indeed, voters of Fremont, Neb., will be deciding this Monday (June 21) whether to ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and bar landlords from renting to them. Forget waiting for your governor to take the lead, eh? (Though it does appear Fremont’s proposal was written with help from an author of Arizona’s new anti-immigration law.)

Mind you, there are only about 25,000 residents in this 1850s-era railroad and farming town about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, and it’s nowhere near an international border. But those in favor of the bans say the number of Hispanic residents has climbed from 165 in 1990 to close to 2,000 now, and that many are living and working there illegally and are responsible for rising crime rates. They’re demanding that all Fremont businesses use the E-Verify system, something skeptics of the proposed law say most already do.

I’m wondering what the atmosphere at the polling places is going to be like on Monday. (I’ll try to keep you posted.) The story suggests many people in Fremont have stopped talking to one another because they’re not sure where everyone stands on this extremely heated and controversial — and, of course, very personal — issue.

More importantly, I’m wondering how far from this kind of development the rest of our American cities and towns might be.

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.