Immigration Reform 2013: Is the Gang Of 8 Bill Revolutionary?

With the drafting of the new immigration reform bill, by the bipartisan Gang of 8 senators, the eventual pathway to citizenship for the over 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S may be near. This may be more a practical measure, than one rooted in pure political calculations, as the country gains more from legitimizing this group of undocumented immigrants, than by keeping them in a limbo. I believe this is the first step in the right direction and must receive support from the whole of Congress. This bill has the potential to lay to rest one of the most divisive political issues and reshape the conversation around employment, immigration, and the domestic economy, in one blow.

The Gang of 8 bill seeks for undocumented immigrants to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI) to allow them to work in the country legally. The bill outlines: “While RPI confers legal status, it does not make individuals eligible for public benefits, including health care, under the Affordable Care Act. The costs to apply for RPI status are a $500 fine, assessed taxes and application fees. After six years in RPI status, another $500 fee will be applicable.”.

An RPI can apply for a green card in 10 years and subsequent to that, in three years; apply for citizenship. The bill is also pragmatic, in that it ensures there are enough low-skilled workers, as well. The bill creates a new category of visa, a W-visa, empowering a new agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Research, to decide on an annual cap on visas, depending on the market conditions. The DREAMers will have a shorter path to residency as well. With greater opportunities to legitimately pursue education and other opportunities, the DREAMers can contribute more in taxes to the country, as this study by the College Board points out.

Other studies, including those done at the University of California, have shown that legalizing immigrants is good for the domestic economy, as well and is not harmful to domestic workers, as is assumed. It is also widely acknowledged that immigrants are more likely to start new businesses, hence employing more Americans. This report by the Kaufmann foundation throws some light on this issue.

I believe that the shifting demographics, need for greater domestic workers, demands of industry are factors which brought this bill to the fore and it seems like a big leap of imagination. The proposed increase of employment visas is also a welcome step, so is a greater scrutiny of employers who employ people on H1B visas, as there have been cases of gross abuse by some employers in the recent past.