Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2019

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How would the Gang of Eight’s immigration proposal affect you?

Immigration Reform Demonstration

Christopher DeVargas

A little girl holds a sign showing support for Keeping Families Together through immigration reform, Wednesday April 10, 2013.

The Senate “Gang of Eight” draft immigration proposal is shaping up to be a multibillion-dollar plan for enhancing border security, a system for regulating labor standards in an immigrant-rich economy, and a complete revamp of the country’s visa allocation policies.

But for Nevada, there are some provisions — should they stand the test of Congress — that will affect the state and its population more acutely than others.

As a nonborder state, Nevada is not likely to be directly affected by a central provision of the bill that requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop and achieve a “Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy” to roll out new surveillance and detention capabilities, increased numbers of Border Patrol agents, and the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles along the U.S. border with Mexico.

But finalizing a plan for the “Comprehensive Southern Border Security” is a necessary precursor, or “trigger,” for putting presently undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship — and as a state with one of the highest per-capita populations of both legal and undocumented immigrants in the country, the proposed rules visas and employment could dramatically affect local families and employers.

Here’s a look at how:

I’m a legal permanent resident of the United States, hoping to get a green card to bring my relative to Las Vegas. What does the proposal say about me?

For immigrant families currently in the bureaucratic limbo of waiting for a green card for a family member, the Gang of Eight’s draft proposal holds one important piece of hope: It promises to fully erase the current backlog on family reunification visas that has kept hundreds of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from Southern Nevada waiting for decades to bring their immediate family members to the United States.

According to the most recent State Department visa bulletin, the backlog of applications for immediate family members of U.S. Citizens from China is seven years long. For family members of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, it is 14 years long. And for family members of U.S. citizens from Mexico, it is just a few months shy of 20 years long.

In the long term though, it depends on what relative you are hoping to sponsor.

The Gang of EIght’s plan makes some significant changes to the family reunification system, whittling down four categories of entry to two, and eliminating adult sibling reunification entirely. Under the proposed rules, married children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents older than 31 would also no longer be eligible for a green card.

I’m undocumented, but hoping to stay in Henderson, which is what I think of as home. What does the proposal say about me?

The Gang of Eight’s proposal endorses the ideas of the Dream Act, and puts young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and either enroll in college or enlist in the military on a path for a green card within five years.

For everyone else, the proposal creates a new “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” for individuals that can prove they have been in the U.S. continuously since before Dec. 31, 2011, do not have a serious criminal record, and are willing to pay back taxes and other fees. People on RPI status would be able to travel outside of the U.S. freely and work for any employer in the U.S. willing to hire them. They would be able to petition to include their spouses and children if they are also in the U.S. at the time of application.

RPI status would also be available to undocumented immigrants that have been deported from the U.S., provided they are the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, fulfill all other requirements, and have committed no crime other than entering the U.S. illegally. In those cases, the deported person would be allowed to return to the U.S. for the purposes of applying for RPI.

After 10 years, individuals on RPI would be allowed to apply for a green card. But, it is important to note that the whole program is contingent on the Department of Homeland Security designing a “Comprehensive Border Security Strategy” to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. DHS also has to verify that the Strategy is working before any immigrants on RPI status would be able to get a green card.

I’m hoping to start a tech company in Las Vegas and I have a doctorate in computer systems engineering from CalTech. What does the proposal say about me?

You could say you hit the jackpot in this proposal. The purpose of many of the rules, as Gang of Eight member Sen. John McCain put it, is to “change, over time, the criteria to much more of a merit system.” To this end, they have introduced a new, merit-based visa, that would be distributed based on “points.” Applicants rack up points toward a visa based on their level of education, length of residence, and employment status in the U.S., and there would be up to 250,000 of those visas available every year.

That said, there are many avenues to getting a merit-based visa. But under the proposed rules, 40 percent of all employment-based visas would be dedicated to immigrants with higher degrees (master’s level or more) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics from an accredited U.S. institution. There is also a new “startup visa” category for foreign entrepreneurs hoping to start companies in the U.S. And if those options fail, there is always the H-1B category of temporary visas for skilled immigrant workers, the quota for which the proposal would double, and potentially triple.

I’m a foreign construction worker, hoping to work on houses in the Las Vegas Valley now that the economy’s starting to pick up a little again. I don’t have family in the U.S. What does the proposal say about me?

For undocumented trade workers already in the U.S., there’s always the option to apply for RPI status. And for those who are applying from outside, there’s always the option of competing for a points-based visa.

Otherwise, the options for low-skilled workers without family connections are decidedly skewed toward the temporary, non-immigrant visa options. The Gang of Eight’s proposal creates the temporary, nonimmigrant W visa, and makes 20,000 of them available in the first year. That number slowly ticks up, to 75,000 by the fourth year. Past that, visa quotas would be set by an independent Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, that would consider the demands of the market and the availability of American workers to do the jobs.

Workers who do procure a W visa would be guaranteed a fair wage, and have the right to leave their initial sponsoring employers for another, W visa-approved job without having to return to their countries of origin. The duration of the W visa would depend on the employer’s needs, which would be subject to government approval and certain restrictions.

I’m a foreign worker hoping to earn money picking onions in Nevada during the harvest season. I don’t have family in the U.S. What does the proposal say about me?

This immigrant, too, has the option, if they are already living illegally in the U.S., of applying for RPI. There is also the option of entering the points-based merit visa pool, though the potential for an otherwise unconnected agricultural worker to secure such a visa would likely be very low.

But the Gang of Eight’s proposal has a special consideration for agricultural workers. In the short term, it preserved the H-2A program that makes temporary work visas available for agricultural workers. But in the longer term, it sunsets the H-2A program and replaces it with two types of W visas: A W-2, which is contract based, and a W-3, which is an at-will visa. Specific information about the terms of the at-will visa were not specified in the drafts the Sun viewed.

I’m an employer, hoping to hire immigrants. What does the proposal say about me?

The draft bill begins its focus on work authorization with a baseline rule: That all employers, under the new system, will be required to check the work eligibility of potential hires with E-Verify, the government’s system for checking the status of work authorization, based on biometric information.

From then on, it depends on what type of worker you are looking to hire. If it is a temporary unskilled worker, there are rules associated with making sure that you will pay fair wages, that you observe fair labor practices and OSHA standards at your worksite, and that you aren’t firing American workers to make way for foreign workers. If it is temporary skilled worker you’re looking to hire, there are wage rules and you may have to pay $5,000-10,000 fee per worker, if you hire mostly foreigners. The rules for hiring immigrants and provisional immigrants on visas that exist independently of work placements are not any different than current labor laws require.

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