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Hello, RPI: "Senate Gang of 8" Releases Latest Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

"Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" Would Create New "Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI)" Status

On the heels of their January 28, 2013 statement on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), the Senate Gang of 8 have released a sweeping immigrant legalization bill that would completely overhaul immigration law as we know it. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is not law, and we will see what the House has to say about the Senate Plan. Our immigration law firm wanted to provide overview of the April 15, 2013 bill, adapted from the Washington Post, Politico along with the a summary of the bill posted by Talking Points Memo.

Good News: Undocumented Immigrants Would Have a Path to Citizenship

However, this "Path to Citizenship" is more akin to a hard uphill climb, where you have to push a boulder to the top of a hill, which might roll down the hill if you lose your job or get into trouble with the police or the IRS. The climb takes ten years just to obtain a permanent green card, and a total of 13 years to naturalize to U.S. (not including of course USCIS processing delays).

The first step on the road to citizenship is called "registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status", which is valid for six years. This status would permit an individual to legally remain in the U.S. with work authorization and the right to travel, although they would be denied welfare assistance like means-tested benefits. Also, spouses and children of people in RPI status can be petitioned for as derivatives of the principal applicant (but must be in the United States at the time).

What are the requirements for registered provisional status?

  • Arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011
  • hold a job
  • pay a $500 fine and back taxes
  • Not described in the following categories:
    • Convicted of an aggravated felony;
    • Convicted of a felony;
    • Convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors (other than traffic or state law immigration offenses);
    • Convicted of an offense under foreign law that would make the immigrant inadmissinle or deportable;
    • Unlawfully Voted; or
    • Inadmissible for Criminal, National Security, Public Health, or other morality grounds.

These rules would not apply to previously deported undocumented immigrants, unless they have a parent or child who is a citizen or U.S. legal permanent resident. However, DREAMers deported as minors would not be subject to these requirements. Also, individuals outside of the United States who were previously in the U.S. before December 31, 2011, but were deported for non-criminal reasons may apply to re-enter the United States in RPI status if they are the spouse, of or parent of a child who is, a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident; or is a childhood arrival eligible for the DREAM Act. The dreaded "permanent bar" for unlawful re-entry after removal or unlawful presence after one year would also no longer apply for those whose violation took place before enactment the Bill.

Because a felony may disqualify an individual from RPI status, affected immigrants should consult with an attorney to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor where possible.

At the end of six years, holders of registered provisional status would have to renew their status. To qualify for renewal, immigrants would have to maintain a steady employment, keep clean criminal record, and pay another $500 fine. After four years in this renewed provisional status, the immigrant can then apply for a permanent residency and a green card.

What are the requirements for permanent residency for someone who holds registered provisional status?

To qualify for a green card as someone who is a registered provisional status holder, the immigrant must show:

  • continuous work history
  • continous physical presence in the U.S.
  • paid required income taxes
  • maintain a clean criminal record as described above
  • knowledge of English and civics
  • pay another $1,000 fine.

It is only after three years with permanent residency that an immigrant may then apply for U.S. citizenship. To get there, the immigrant would have waited 13 years and paid $2000 in fee to USCIS.

Good News: DREAMers and Agricultural Workers Get a Faster Path to Citizenship

DREAMers, defined as undocumented immigrants who entered illegally before age 16, graduated from high school, and have been in the United States for at least five years could apply for permanent residency after just five years. They could apply for citizenship immediately after obtaining their green cards, if they have served two years in the military or completed at least two years of college.

Ag workers could also apply for permanent residency after just five years, but could not be immediately pursue naturalization to U.S. citizenship.

Bad News: Registered Provisional Immigrants Would Not Be Allowed to Apply for Green Cards After Ten Years Unless the Border is Deemed "Secured"

You heard that right. As reported in the Washington Post, if ten years pass and DHS enforcement plans aren't judged to have been completed, then registered provisionals would have to wait to apply to become permanent residents until the border is deemed secure.

Good News/Bad News: the Family Based Immigrant Visa Quota System Will Be Revamped

The good news is that the quota system on spouses and sons and daughters of permanent residents would be done away with, as would quotas on unmarried adult sons and daughters of US citizens. They would be recategorized as "immediate relatives", meaning they could apply for permanent residency immediately upon approval of the family-based immigrant visa petition.

This is really terrific news. Under the quota system, the wait time for the adult married son from Mexico of a U.S. citizen is two decades out. Yes, two decades. Under the plan, quota limits would be eliminated in most categories, and an unlimited number of visas to go to parents, children and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. Because so many undocumented immigrants are beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions, they could possibly move to the front of the line to apply for permanent residency (assuming they otherwise legally qualify) and so would not even need to apply for registered provisional status.

Now for the bad news: 18 months after the law takes effect, the family fourth preference category (visas for brothers and sisters of citizens) would be eliminated, as would much of the family 3rd preference (visas for adult married sons and daughters of US citizens over the age of 30).

No News: Same Sex Couples Are not Mentioned under the Senate Gang of 8 Immigration Plan

According to the Washington Post, these family members are not covered.

There is much to like under the Gang of 8 Plan. The highlight of this plan, and something in keeping with American values, is that undocumented immigrants are not looking at perpetual second class status. The Path to Citizenship is essential to keeping the United States a land of equality and opportunity, and unlike Europe, whose societies are afflicted by its ill-conceived gastarbeiter system.

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