1. What are the general eligibility requirements for people for legalization?
At the heart of the Senate bill is a broad yet stringent legalization program that will put most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants on the road to eventual citizenship. The bill provides for a several step legalization program that first allows people to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI) status and then, after 10 years, for lawful permanent resident status, and then after 3 more years, for U.S. citizenship.
Eligibility requirements include passing criminal and security background checks and establishing continuous physical presence in the United States since before December 31, 2011. Departures of less than 180 days during that period do not constitute breaks in physical presence. Certain criminal convictions (1 felony or 3 separate misdemeanors) and other grounds of inadmissibility render applicants ineligible for legalization.
Applicants must pay a penalty fine of $500 at the time of initial application, another penalty fine of $500 at the time of renewal of RPI status, and then a $1,000 penalty fine at the time of adjustment to permanent status. Processing fees for adjudication of the applications apply at each of 4 stages on the road to citizenship—initial application, renewal of RPI status after 6 years, application for lawful permanent resident status after 10 years, and application for citizenship after 3 additional years (if desired).
A person may remain in in RPI status and renew it every 6 years if they so desire. At the time of RPI renewal and/or application for permanent residence, the applicant must demonstrate that they have maintained regular employment or education, payment of taxes, and the ability to support oneself. At the time of application for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status, applicants must demonstrate that they are learning English and have a knowledge of civics.
Persons who have final orders of removal, or who have previously reentered the U.S. after a prior removal or voluntary departure are eligible to apply for RPI status. In addition, certain people previously deported for non-criminal grounds and who have a spouse, parent, or child USC or LPR in the United States or who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, are eligible to apply for a waiver to reenter the United States in order to apply for legal status. Persons who entered the United States on a valid visa and then overstayed are eligible, provided they have been in unlawful status since December 31, 2011.
Individuals who receive PRI status can work legally in the United States and travel outside the country. Their minor children, if present in the United States, can be included in their application.
Individuals with PRI status are not eligible for means-tested federal public benefits nor for subsidies or tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.
2. What will happen to people in current visa backlogs?
The Senate bill eliminates the entire family and employment-based visa backlogs within 8 years. All of the people who are currently in the visa backlogs, waiting for their “priority date” to become current, will obtain lawful permanent resident status before the newly legalized RPI’s can obtain permanent status.
3. Will the border enforcement “triggers” delay the legalization program?
The border enforcement triggers should not delay the initial RPI legalization program. The “triggers” require the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit, within 6 months of enactment, two plans. The first is a strategy to achieve a 90% effective rate goal in high risk sectors of the Southern border. The second is a fencing plan designed to reinforce current fencing and barriers. The initial legalization program does not begin until these plans are submitted. The legalization program also will not begin until implementing regulations are issued – within 12 months after enactment of the bill.
If, after five years, the 90% effectiveness rate in high risk sectors has not been achieved, an additional pool of resources will be authorized for appropriation and a commission of experts and elected officials from border states will be formed. The border commission will issue recommendations to DHS regarding additional measures that should be adopted to help reach the 90% effectiveness rate goal.
Two other enforcement “triggers” that have to be met before RPIs can apply for permanent residence involve implementation of the E-Verify program and entry-exit controls at air and sea ports. Both of these triggers are achievable and should not delay the path to permanent residence.
4. What about family members…spouses/kids of LPRs, siblings, LGBT partners, adult married kids?
The Senate bill provides for increased family unity by categorizing spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents as “immediate relatives” for immigration purposes. This means that these family members are not subject to any numerical limitations. That, in turn, frees up visas for the other family categories, which will limit the size of any new backlogs that may develop in those categories in the future.
The bill will phase out the U.S. citizen sibling visa category and diversity visas. But all U.S. citizens with sibling petitions currently pending will be able to complete their sponsorship and new petitions may be filed for another 18 months. After that point, siblings still will be eligible for a new “merit based visa” and will receive eligibility points based on their family relationship. They will also be authorized to travel to the United States as visitors for two-month periods each year.
The adult married children visa category will be limited in the future to those who are under 31 years of age.
The bill does not provide for family visas for LGBT “permanent partners.” This provision will have to be added to the bill through the amendment process.
5. What about DREAMERS, what happens to them?
DREAMERs can earn permanent legal status within five years, and are then immediately eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. DREAMERs who have been previously deported may still be eligible to apply for legal status if they meet certain requirements, even if they don’t have a qualifying U.S. relationship
6. What other changes does the bill make to the employment-based visa programs?
Farmworkers are eligible for an expedited five year path to permanent legal status and then eventual citizenship under current law. In order to qualify, among other things, they must continue working in the agricultural sector for an additional 3-5 years post-enactment.
Other essential workers may apply for a new “W” worker visa which will allow them to enter and work in the U.S. for participating employers, change jobs to other W employers, and eventually self-petition for lawful permanent status under the new merit based program.
Both the W visa program and the new agricultural worker program are subject to important standards for wages and working conditions, negotiated by labor to protect both immigrant and native-born workers.
Finally, there are new protections against employers using immigration status to intimidate workers and to prevent international recruiters from misleading or otherwise mistreating those they bring to the U.S.
7. What about people who had TPS or DED?
People who have been in the United States in lawful or employment authorized status, including TPS or DED, for at least ten years are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence. This will allow people in these statuses who have already been here for more than ten years to adjust status immediately, instead of waiting another ten years.
8. Are there any changes to the asylum and refugee programs in this bill?
The Senate bill provides important improvements to asylum and refugee programs, including the elimination of the arbitrary one-year filing deadline.
9. What about other enforcement measures, such as E-Verify?
The bill includes a mandatory, universal employment verification program, E-Verify. The program includes new due process and privacy protections, and is phased in over a period of five years until it includes all U.S employers.
10. When will this bill become law? What is the process? When can people begin to apply for legalization?
The Senate bill must first move through a process of approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will be subject to amendment from both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. The bill will then go to the whole Senate for debate and amendment and a final vote. The House must also pass an immigration bill.
If the House and Senate bills are not identical, the two bills will usually go to a House/Senate “conference committee” where further changes will be made as the differences between the two bills are worked out. The final bill agreed-upon by the conference committee must sent back to both the House and Senate for final votes, and only then can the bill be signed into law by the President.
Once the bill is signed into law, there will be a one-year period in which regulations will be written to implement the bill. The application period for the new legalization program will begin one year after the bill is signed into law, and applicants will have one year to apply. The DHS Secretary can extend the application period for an additional eighteen months if necessary.
During the year it will take to finalize the regulations after bill enactment, and through the one or two-and-a-half year application period, individuals who are eligible for legalization will be protected from deportation.
No one can apply for legalization before the program application period begins, one year after the bill is signed into law. Individuals should not pay anyone to prepare or file their application unless and until the official application period begins. Information and deadlines will be posted on various government and non-profit organization websites.