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Senate Bill Introduces Merit-Based Immigration System

file2021306946466.jpgThe immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate in June of 2013 included a number of sweeping changes including a path to citizenship and enhanced border security, but it also included a completely new system for providing visas to qualified foreign workers. The business community has been quite vocal in its support for an immigration overhaul that would widen the doors to skilled workers, and the U.S. Senate has responded with a new visa system that awards green cards to applicants who possess certain characteristics like educational degrees or family in the U.S.

As an immigration attorney in Austin, I understand the need for the United States to closely monitor who receives a green card to enter the country. This is an important national security issue, but one that should be carefully weighed against the country’s need to maintain its economic leadership role through acquiring talented workers and entrepreneurs. Providing more visas to qualified applicants should re-energize the economy by establishing more jobs and developing innovative new products.

The Senate bill proposes new changes that would go into effect in 2018. These changes would increase the number of merit-based visas to between 1.5 and 1.7 million per year, up from the 1.03 million issued in 2012. And unlike the existing system, the new visa system would allot points to applicants in a variety of categories with the applicants with the highest scores issued visas.

The points categories would include family already residing in the U.S., employment in a high-demand industry, highest academic degree, age, and country of origin. Younger workers with exceptional academic credentials and professional experience in a field that is desperate for workers are most likely to obtain visas. Also, workers who have jobs waiting for them in the U.S. or prior work experience in this country are likely to receive preference.

Some special classes of applicants may receive heightened consideration. For example, entrepreneurs who demonstrate willingness to establish a company of sufficient size would receive greater preference. Applicants who possess doctorates would not be required to have an employer sponsor to obtain a visa.

This merit-based system will also limit some types of visas. In the current system, visas were often awarded to siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens, but under the proposed new program, these applicants would receive additional points as family of U.S. citizens but would still have to qualify for a visa using a comprehensive point assessment.

While this bill has won the approval of the U.S. Senate, it remains to be seen if any immigration reform law will include these features. The U.S. House of Representatives is lagging far behind in its efforts to pass an immigration reform package. While House leadership has echoed support for some elements of the Senate bill, it appears unlikely that any legislation from the House will mirror the Senate’s bill. The Republican led House has instead announced a desire to tackle immigration issues one at a time.

The immigration system is likely to be changed in the coming years as political pressure increases. As an immigration lawyer, I am optimistic that the federal government will pass laws that will make the immigration system more accessible to potential immigrants, but the exact changes are unclear at the moment.

Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC has successfully represented its clients in immigration and family law proceedings. For more information about how Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC can help you, please contact our office at (512) 215-5225.