AUTHOR:  Rob Neale

Two end-of-year legislative efforts point to immigration reform as being front-and-center in the new 2013 legislative session.  Republicans wasted no time in addressing immigration following the recent presidential election, in which Latino and other immigrant voters gave more of their support to President Barack Obama.

On November 30, 2012, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have granted up to 55,000 immigrant visas (green cards) to foreign nationals who graduate from a U.S. university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math (known as the “STEM” fields).  To avoid increasing the overall number of immigrant visas issued each year, the STEM bill would have abolished the same number of immigrant visas issued annually under the “Diversity Visa Lottery” program, an annual lottery that awards green cards to individuals from countries with low immigration to the United States.

Senate leadership quickly blocked consideration of the STEM bill.  While Democrats voiced their support of providing more immigrant visas for STEM graduates, they disagreed that the Diversity Visa Lottery should be eliminated to achieve that goal.  Senators stated their concern of abolishing the Diversity Visa Lottery because the program gives permanent residency to many under-represented immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe who would otherwise be excluded.

In the Senate, on November 23, 2012, two Republican senators introduced legislation called the “Achieve Act,” which would provide legal status for certain young undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. prior to the age of 14.  The Act would not grant permanent residency (green cards) to applicants, and instead grant renewable temporary status assuming that the applicant continued to qualify.  Unlike the Democrat-backed DREAM Act, the Republican plan carries no path to permanent residence status or U.S. citizenship.  No action was taken on the measure prior to the end of the 112th Congress. 

The introduction of targeted immigration legislation is a precursor to what is expected to be a larger focus on immigration reform in the new Congress..  The key sticking point on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in the past has been what to do about the millions of people currently in the country illegally.  As Congress addresses immigration reform in the upcoming session, employers should keep abreast of changes to immigration law and policy and to seek counsel on legal issues new Government policies may create.  Jackson Lewis will continue to monitor all legislative action that may impact an employer’s ability to hire and retain global talent.