Immigration Reform Bill Revealed and the Debates are On…

Contributed by Sara Zorich

Last week the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” (S. 744) was introduced.  Since then, there have been a series of congressional hearings to discuss the provisions of the Act.  It is clear from the hearings that there are strong opinions on the bill from many communities that would be affected.  In general, the bill proposes sweeping reform to the country’s broken immigration system.  A summary of the main sections covered by the bill is as follows:

  • Border Security – improving border security including increased surveillance and patrol
  • Legalization and Legal Immigration – work authorization and path to citizenship for individuals currently in the United States with unlawful status; requirement to pay back taxes as part of the application process
  • Legal Immigration – overhaul of the current system for family and employment based immigration
  • Mandatory E-Verify and Increase/Additional Penalties – all employers would be required to use the E-Verify system for employment verification in addition to the Form I-9 within the required phase in periods; employers with more than 5,000 employees would be phased in within 2 years, employers with more than 500 employees will be phased in within 3 years and all employers within 4 years; significant fines from $3,500 – $7,500 per worker for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens and fines for failure to comply with E-Verify use requirements; establishes the potential for an electronic Form I-9 in conjunction with E-Verify
  • H-1B Visa Reform – increasing the current cap for the H-1B visa category, additional regulations aimed to curtail alleged H-1B abusers by requiring “H-1B dependent employers” to pay significantly higher wages and modification of application/posting requirements for all H-1B employers
  • New W-Visa Program for Lower-Skilled Workers – new visa category for foreign workers to perform services or labor for registered employers in registered lower skilled positions; the number of visas in this new category would fluctuate annually and is dependent on unemployment rates, job openings, bureau recommendations and additional data
  • Agricultural Job Opportunities – current undocumented farm workers will have an opportunity to obtain legal status

Employers should be aware that the congressional hearings have begun and nothing in the current bill is set in stone.  The bill is certain to go through rounds of revisions before it is set for any vote before the Senate or the House of Representatives.  However, at least thus far, mandatory E-Verify is a pillar of the bill and its continued inclusion seems certain.

Since, in recent years, the government has only increased its enforcement of I-9 and immigration compliance, employers should consider reviewing their current processes and policies in advance of any implementation of mandatory E-Verify.  Further, as a reminder, employers MUST utilize the new Form I-9 (Rev. 03/08/13)N no later than May 7, 2013.  Starting on May 7, 2013, employers are not allowed to use prior versions of the Form I-9 for employment verification of new employees.