Roberto Morales, 25, holds a sign representing a permanent resident card, while attending the “Rally for Citizenship” in support of immigration reform, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Making sense of the Senate and House proposals for immigration reform

2013-04_2256330_NBCLatino-ImmigrationNation_640x90_v1For weeks now, details of the Senate and House plans have been leaked but neither bill has been introduced. There are similarities — both plans calls for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — but one calls for a 13-year wait and another for 15.  These are some of the key points of each proposal, which will probably not change by the time the bills are presented.

The Senate bi-partisan bill has a “new” approach to obtaining immigration benefits. It moves away from the historic family ties to a merit-based program. The bill proposes a lengthy process taking upwards of 13 years to attain permanent residence (i.e. green card).

If this bill were to pass and become law, an applicant would obtain “provisional legal status” for 10 years and would obtain a work permit giving them the ability to travel.

According to this bill’s drafters, the new merit-based program would encourage legal immigration into the U.S. Once the applicant obtains his or her permanent residency, he or she will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

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What is merit-based?  High-skilled foreigners in technology and science, mid-range white-collar workers, and lastly, low wage workers. The requirements proposed are as follows: remain in “good standing,” have English knowledge, and pass “other requirements” which may encompass paying taxes, perhaps knowledge of U.S. history and government, be gainfully employed, and pay hefty fines.

The bill also proposes speeding up the process for those individuals with pending applications for residency. For example, if you are a U.S. citizen and are petitioning for a sibling, the wait can be between 12 and 16 years, or if you are a U.S. citizen petitioning for an adult child, the wait can be up to 20 years! Hence the coined term “waiting at the end of the line” for these new applicants.

Lastly, a green card holder with a spouse abroad currently has at least a 2 to 3 year wait to reunite with his or her spouse. This wait would be reduced and a visa would be immediately available to the spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of the green holder.

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The Senate version is expected to be presented on Tuesday.

The House of Representatives is also working on their own version of an immigration reform bill. It differs from the Senate version in that it has a 3-tier path to legal status in the U.S.

Path # 1: Would encompass “Dreamers” and low-skilled agricultural workers, giving them an expedited path to legal status. Representatives agree that agricultural workers perform crucial work for our economy and that those who entered the U.S. as children, through no fault of their own, should be allowed a pathway to legal status.

Path # 2: Applicants with family or employment ties would qualify for permanent residency and would earn their residency after going through a series of hurdles. For example: paying taxes, fines, learning English, and showing proof of employment may constitute some of these procedural hoops.

Path # 3: Other immigrants currently in the US.. without status who do not fall in category 1 or 2 would be allowed to apply for “provisional status” if they admit to breaking the law, pay fines and back taxes, and learn English.

The new provisional legal status will persist for a minimum of 10 years, after which the applicant may apply for permanent residency (green card). After 5 years as a green card holder, he or she may apply for U.S. citizenship. The House bill also requires Border Security Standards to show improvement before any path to legal permanent residence can commence.

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The contrast with the 1986 Amnesty Law signed by President Reagan is that it granted the applicant legal permanent residency in a short 18 months after passing a short list of requirements with no fines, no back taxes; after only a basic clearance check and a small fee the applicant would then enjoy the benefits of a quick green card. These new immigration reform proposals come with a financial cost and a much longer wait for legalization.

Making sense of the Senate and House proposals for immigration reform dscf3583 300 dpi srgb e1344993690669 politics NBC Latino News

Alma Rosa Nieto is a Los-Angeles-based expert immigration legal analyst for local and national television, radio and print.  She is a regular contributor for Telemundo television news.

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