We’ve all been hearing a lot in the media about the proposed immigration reform Bill 744 and how it is now in the senate floor for debate and eventually a vote. But how would you and your family members stand to benefit if it got passed? And what can you do now to start preparing to take advantage of such a reform? In this two part newsletter in question and answer form, we have summarized for you the most important benefits and provisions of this bill and provide some suggestions to help you start preparing now.
1. What benefits would illegal or undocumented immigrants (including those with TPS) derive from the Immigration Reform Bill 744?
Illegal or undocumented immigrants (including those who have TPS), could qualify for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI), which would give them the following benefits:
- Authorization to remain in the US;
- Authorization to work in the US;
- Authorization to travel outside of the US for periods of time not to exceed 180 continuous days;
- Eligibility to obtain status for spouse and children;
- Waiver of prior deportation orders;
- May later apply for Legal Permanent Resident status if eligible
2. What are the eligibility requirements for the Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI) ?
The following are the eligibility requirements for the RPI status:
- Must be present in the US continuously since December 31, 2011, with some exceptions for brief absences;
- Has not been convicted for a serious crime or 3 non-serious crimes with an exception for certain motor vehicle violations; (conviction does not include judgments that were vacated)
- Has not been engaged or previously engaged in any terrorist activity;
- Does not have unlawful entries after the date that the law is enacted (unlawful entries before the date of the law are waived);
- Has not been granted refugee status or Legal Permanent Resident status and has been unlawfully present in the U.S. except for individuals granted TPS;
- Is the spouse or child of an individual eligible for Registered Provisional Immigrant status;
- Has evidence that all taxes have been paid for all income derived in the US;
- Understands English or is enrolled in an English language program with limited exceptions due to age or disability.
3. What are the requirements for maintaining RPI status?
To maintain RPI status you must:
- Be employed or studying;
- Pay all taxes;
- Not receive public benefits;
- Not travel outside the US without permission;
- Not engage in criminal activity with certain minor exceptions.
4. Is there anything I can do if I have a criminal record to modify it so that I may still qualify for immigration benefits from this law proposal?
Yes. The first step is to have your record evaluated by an attorney with experience in both criminal and immigration law to determine if your record will prevent you from obtaining a benefit under immigration law (this depends on the type of criminal offence and what disposition it had in court). If your criminal record is an obstacle, then the record must be carefully reviewed to establish if there is a legal procedure for the record to be modified or vacated (Note: section 2204 of the proposal states that a vacated conviction will not stop a person from getting a benefit). Then generally, a well-crafted petition must be filed by your attorney, with the court where the criminal case was heard to modify or vacate as necessary.
5. Does this proposed law benefit those who have a deportation order open or in process and those who have been previously deported?
This proposed law may allow those who have been previously ordered deported and those with a deportation order open or in process to apply for the RPI status, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements for the RPI status described above, and they remain inside the US as of the day the law passes. It does not give a direct benefit to those who are outside the US, although they may qualify through certain family members.
6.What are the requirements for obtaining Adjustment of Status or U.S. Legal Permanent Residence mentioned in the proposal?
The following are the requirements mentioned in the proposal for obtaining Adjustment of Status or U.S. Legal Permanent Residence:
- Must have maintained status with limited exceptions based upon age or disability (see prior section for requisites for maintaining status);
- Has registered for Selective Military Service if required;
- Meets the English language requirement;
- All visas have been issued to the individuals who have visas pending in the “Backlog” as of the day the law is enacted;
- Legal Permanent Residence or Adjustment of Status may be available sooner for Registered Provisional Immigrant, but not later than 10 years after the enactment of the law.
7. What are the proposed changes with regards to obtaining U.S. Citizenship?
The following are some proposed changes with regards to obtaining U.S. Citizenship:
- Faster eligibility period for individuals working with authorization in the US for 10 years and have been granted LPR status (they may apply for citizenship immediately);
- Reduction in waiting period of LPR’s to apply for citizenship from 5 years to 3 years.
8. What benefits does the proposed bill include for family members of US citizens and Residents?
Some of the benefits for family members of US citizens and Residents include:
- Spouse and children of LPR’s will have visas available without waiting
- Adult children of Citizens and LPR’s will have shorter waiting periods
- Citizens will no longer be able to apply for brothers and sisters
9. When do we believe the new immigration law is likely to pass?
It is our belief that this bill may be likely to pass into law in December of this year. There are approximately 30 amendments that must be reviewed by the two houses of Congress and any differences must be negotiated and agreed upon. Despite the fact that there are a large number of potential disagreements that the Republicans and Democrats will have this is the perfect time for the bill to pass because of the following:
- It is the President’s first year of his second term and he wants immigration reform to pass. Congress will still have to deal with the President for the next 3 years and since he will not be seeking re-election, this yields him substantial influence over Congress at this time. For example, both Presidents Reagan and Clinton signed significant immigration reform laws in their second terms.
- This is an “off-election” year, where no general Congressional, Senatorial or Presidential elections are being held which gives politicians greater flexibility to support a bill and pass laws that are either slightly to the left or right of their natural political position.
- The Hispanic vote played a substantial role in the 2012 election and both parties are still trying to appeal to that section of the electorate;
- The most recent (April 2013) unemployment rate of 7.6% is one of the lowest since 2008 and a full 3 percentage points lower than at its highest point, 9.6% in 2010, and is only 3% higher than the natural rate of unemployment (estimated between 4.4% and 5.2%). If Americans are working and earning then it is easier to accept new neighbors and additional people into our economy.
- December is a month that Congress breaks early and legislative policy is not the focus of Americans’ attention.
10. Should I act now or wait for the immigration reform to pass?
We believe that there is no advantage in waiting to act if you qualify for an immigration benefit now. The sooner you apply for your immigration benefit, the quicker you will be in line to receive it. In addition, if there is an immigration reform law passed, it will most likely respect your place in line and you will not be prevented to apply for additional benefits that you may qualify as a result of the new law, if any. Finally, there is always the risk that the reform may not pass, or that its final form is not as beneficial as we may think now, or that it takes longer than the expected time to pass, specially, if we consider that we have been waiting more than a decade for immigration law reform.
11. What can I do to start preparing to be ready to take advantage of the immigration reform?
It is our belief that any immigration reform law that may pass will require the proper payment of taxes on all income, as well as a relatively clean criminal record and that the person and their families do not use public benefits. It is therefore advisable to have a qualified immigration and criminal defense lawyer review your criminal record to see if there is anything that can be done to allow you to qualify for immigration benefits (please contact our office as soon as possible if you need help with this).
Equally important, is to correct any mistakes in prior tax returns that may not include all income or which may include dependents that may have been declared improperly, as well as to correct any applications for public benefits (i.e. public housing, healthcare and food stamps, etc.) that may have been made in error (i.e. do not include all income or support provided by all members of the family, or that fail to list all family members in the household, etc.) This way you will be in the best position to meet the eligibility requirements when the time comes to apply for any of the new benefits that may be granted by the new law.
Desmond P. FitzGerald and
The FitzGerald & Company team