Bennet, Group of 8 Introduce Immigration Bill with Path to Citizenship, Improved Visa System

Bipartisan group's plan reduces backlog for legal immigrants, makes fixes to help families, businesses, workers

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today joined Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) today to introduce a bill to fix our broken immigration system.   

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the country without documentation.  It increases the number of visas available for workers specializing in high tech industries, eliminates the unworkable H2A system for agriculture workers, replacing it with a new streamlined system.  It creates a guest worker program agreed to by labor and business for lesser-skilled workers to come into the country to meet labor demands in industries such as tourism and hospitality.

“Two bedrock values that make America unique are that we are a nation of laws, and we are a nation of immigrants.  This bill embodies these two American values,” Bennet said.  “It will provide a path to citizenship for families who came to this country for a better life but have been forced to live and work in the shadows of our society.  Kids who know only this country as home and have worked hard will no longer have their potential stifled. Instead they’ll have opportunity to go to college, get a job, become a citizen and contribute to America.  And businesses struggling to find workers from farmers to aerospace companies to hotels and ski resorts will have a visa system that makes sense and provides worker protections.”

The bill would provide people living in the country without documentation the opportunity to apply for legal status call Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI).  To receive RPI, they must have been in the country before December 31, 2011 and be in good standing with the law.  Under RPI status immigrants must pay a fine, pay taxes, be regularly employed and maintain a regular presence in the United States. RPI status becomes available to immigrants six months after the Secretary of Homeland Security has submitted a comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Southern Border Fencing Strategy to the Congress. The bill provides $3 billion to implement the border strategy and $1.5 billion to implement the fencing strategy. 

After 10 years, people in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status if they remain in good standing and certain border security triggers are met. People brought to this country when they were children, known as DREAMers, as well as agriculture workers have an accelerated path to citizenship. They can get their green cards in 5 years and DREAMers will be eligible for citizenship immediately after they get their green cards.

The bill also puts measures in place to eliminate the backlog for family and employment-based immigrants and expands the current V visa to allow individuals with an approved family petition to live in the U.S. and allow certain other family members to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year.  It creates a merit visa which awards points to individuals based on equities that contribute to our national interest such as education, employment, length of residence in the US and other considerations.

To help strengthen our economy this bill increases the number of H-1B visas for high skilled jobs.  It also includes a new INVEST visa, which Bennet included in the bill.  Immigrant entrepreneurs who seek to start new businesses and create jobs in the United States would qualify for this new visa.  Specifically, it would create a new, three-year visa for individuals who are able to meet certain revenue, job creation and initial investment requirements.  

The bill also establishes a new nonimmigrant W classification for lesser-skilled foreign workers performing services or labor for a registered employer in a registered position.  This W classification is particularly important for the tourism and restaurant industry in the state, which is Colorado’s second largest industry. In fact, the ski industry alone generates $3 billion per year.

Bennet worked with Rubio and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who are not members of the group of 8, on a section of the bill that eliminates the unworkable H-2A visa system for employers seeking to fill severe labor shortages with agriculture workers from abroad. It replaces it with a new streamlined guest worker program that will be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agriculture is a major economic engine in our nation economy and contributes $40 billion to Colorado’s economy.  But farmers and ranchers are watching their crops rot in the fields and on the vines because they can’t get the workers they need.  The new streamlined system will help farmers and ranchers get the workers they need, allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status through an Agricultural Card Program and includes important worker protections. 

The bill also draws on programs in Greeley, Colorado and Littleton, Colorado to create an Office of New Americans to help immigrants learn English, American civics and integrate into local communities.

For a summary of the bill, click here.  To read the bill, click here.