The conversation taking place about immigration reform and the so-called “path to citizenship” is a misnomer, according to the president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Douglas Stump. What’s being discussed is not actually a path to citizenship, but a path to legal permanent residency, that ultimately will put people at “the back of the line,” he said.
“You can’t become a citizen until you can become a permanent resident,” Stump explained. “And typically, one must be a resident for 5 years before you can become a citizen.”
The current conversation revolving around immigration reform calls for providing a temporary lawful status and employment authorization to people who register with the government, pass a criminal background check, and pay taxes, he said. Ultimately, they will then be able to apply for permanent resident status, he said.
“By making them go through that three-step process, then that would be a path to citizenship but it does, in a sense, put them at the back of the line,” Stump told Politic365.
But there are many other issues at stake in the current conversation.
A mandatory e-verify program for employers is likely to make its way into any immigration reform, Stump explained, noting that employers would likely welcome the program. There’s currently a limit on visas allocated by country. Stump said that no more than 7.1% of employment-based visas can come from a specific country, but most talent seeking STEM visas are coming from India and China. And even if you get one of these visas, it can take over 10 years to then become a permanent resident.
“That’s just not an effective mechanism to fill the void and the talent pool in the STEM fields, so we’re going to have to fix that too,” he told Politic365.
One of the primary debates in both the House and Senate is how to allocate visas between family and employment, Stump said. Some suggest taking away from one category to give to the other, but the better solution is to protect family-based immigration visas and increase the availability of employment-based ones, he said. Ultimately, Stump said immigration reform needs to include reform to visa allotments and a path to permanent residency to work.
“The solution works. We are able to pour into the back of the line all of those people who have been legalized through immigration reform, and lets us have access to the world’s greatest minds,” he said.
But the devil will lie in the details of the number of visas allocated for families and employment.
Ideally Stump said the number of visas for agriculture workers would increase, and there would be a separation between employment visas allocated to workers and their families. Currently the about 140,000 high tech visas for skilled workers every year, but those visas go not only to the worker — but to spouses and children. Thus, Stump said, a large number of these visas actually go to non-employees.
Neither the House nor the Senate has introduced legislation, although the president’s plan was leaked Saturday.