Immigration Reform 2013: 4 Seen and Unseen Consequences Of the Senate Bill

What has come of the Gang of 8’s 844-page bill for comprehensive immigration reform released in mid-April? The bill will receive feedback from the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but many unofficial players have had time to look at the bill and write sophisticated responses and follow-up studies.

Here are four major takeaways from the bill, both seen and unseen:

1. Stricter employer verification

Seen: The stricter parameters for E-verify will mandate that illegal immigrants have a biometric ID card and will allow employers to see the legal status of potential employees. There is plenty of controversy over this issue; critics highlight the enforcement gap (up to five years) and the authoritarian idea of a national ID card.

Unseen: Aside from the ideological battles about E-verify and whether it is right or just, there are some true logistical battles that must be resolved. E-verify is not human and will be prone to mechanical errors that could lead to inefficiency. Immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh states, “often times the inclusion of another space at the end of an employee's name or a hyphen confounds the system and rejects the worker.” These small logistical issues will be just as important for the day-to-day implementation of E-verify as the larger, ideological ones.

2. Open the door to more high-skilled workers

Seen: The bill is slated to expand the H1-B visa category, the category for high-skilled workers, from 65,000 to 110,000 annually – and potentially up to 180,000 – depending on demand. Many of these workers are in STEM fields and contribute significantly to the economy. PolicyMic pundit Justin Badlam cites evidence that “for every 100 additional foreign-born workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs created 262 additional jobs for native U.S. workers.”

Unseen: The biggest proponents of increasing H1-B visas are, unsurprisingly, the tech industry. The New York Times exposed how Silicon Valley lobbying coalitions, like Compete America and, advocate for an increase in H1-B visas. What is not apparent initially is that the expanded H1-B worker visa program will work in favor of these large Silicon Valley corporations, and work against some large firms that rely on outsourcing. There is a proposed “cap” after 2014 on H1-B visas for employers whose workforce is composed of 75% or more foreign workers. This means that these firms, principally in India, will not be able to hire many more foreign workers after 2014 because of their outsourcing structure.

3. Open the door to worker “W” visas

Seen: Beginning in 2015, 20,000 “W-visas” for low-skilled workers will be available and will steadily rise each year, reaching 75,000 in 2019. “W-visas” would be available for a three-year period, and both the worker and their family would be permitted to reside in the United States. The closest program the US has now is the H-2A visas, for agricultural guest workers.

Unseen: The “W-visa,” unlike today’s H-2A visa, will not be uniquely tied to one employer. Today, the employer is the effective “sponsor” of the agricultural worker, and thus the employee’s wages and time in the U.S. is contingent on how long they are needed by that one employer. The “W” visa will not tie a laborer to one specific employer. (However, they will be required to leave the US if they are unemployed for 60 days.) The labor mobility afforded by this could be another unseen positive consequence of the “W-visas,” allowing laborers to move around between employers depending on demand and high/low seasons.  

4. Long and arduous pathway to citizenship

Seen: The “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants with no prior felony convictions who arrived before December, 31, 2011 will be a long one. From start to finish, it will take 13 years and at least $2,000 to move from illegal immigrant to “registered provisional” and finally, to a Green Card holding full citizen. While the immigrants are a “registered provisional,” they are not eligible for public benefits but are not at risk of deportation.

Unseen: While “registered provisional” status may seem like a sort of purgatory between citizenship and illegal alien, it could be a period of years for significant economic development and prosperity. Although immigrants would not be able to receive public benefits, they could still open businesses, make large purchases like a car or a home, and develop their career – all the while significantly contributing to the US economy.

Images credit of: USCIS, Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons