The House GOP Conference met last week to discuss possible approaches to immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. House Republican leaders endorsed continuing along the current path of approaching immigration on an issue-by-issue basis, which some have referred to as a “piecemeal” approach. In a statement released shortly after the meeting, House leaders stated that they would not take up the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744), the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed last month by the Senate, but rather would “continue their work on a step-by-step, commonsense approach to fix what has long been a broken system.” The caucus as a whole reportedly remains deeply divided, particularly on the issue of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.
Following the Senate’s passage of S. 744, questions abounded about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in the House. While the House “Group of Seven” is reportedly still working at crafting a comprehensive solution, the piecemeal approach favored by House Republican leaders continues to hold sway.
While analysts agree that there would likely be enough combined Democratic and Republican votes to pass S. 744 or some similar comprehensive bill, Speaker John Boehner indicated even prior to the House GOP meeting last week that he would not allow a comprehensive immigration bill to reach the House floor without the support of a majority of Republicans. The July 11th meeting itself – in which some conservatives reportedly urged Boehner to “kill the bill,” and referred to S. 744 as an “Obamacare-like bill” – seemed to validate the view that a majority of Republicans in the House are not prepared, at least at this juncture, to support any approach resembling the Senate bill.
It remains to be seen whether the collection of House bills that have moved forward to date, or some subset of them, might be successfully patched together and conferenced with S. 744, particularly with the very thorny issue of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented yet to be addressed in the House.
Among the bills reported out by the House Judiciary Committee are the SKILLS Visa Act (H.R. 2131), the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772), the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (H.R. 2278), also known as the SAFE Act, and the Agricultural Guestworker “AG” Act (H.R. 1773). Earlier this year, the House border security subcommittee passed the Border Security Results Act of 2013 (H.R. 1417), a bill that would compel DHS to produce a strategy and implementation plan for achieving measurable border security. The timing of floor votes on these bills is not certain, but may begin this month.
Provisions for High Skilled Workers
The House Judiciary Committee in late June cleared the SKILLS Visa Act, which would expand green card and nonimmigrant opportunities for skilled workers. The bill would allocate additional immigrant visas to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in STEM fields; increase the standard H-1B cap to 155,000 (with 40,000 more numbers for advanced-degree STEM graduates); and repeal employment-based per-country limits. The bill would also make major changes to the way required wages are calculated, and impose new wage requirements on longer-term L-1s, F-1s on OPT, and TNs. (Click here for a summary of the bill.)
The SKILLS Visa Act would not provide as great an infusion of green card numbers as S. 744, though it lifts the H-1B cap considerably and without the new employer requirements that the Senate bill would impose. Though the bill would establish new wage requirements as described above, it does not include S.744-type provisions on recruitment or non-displacement. See this chart for a comparison of the SKILLS Visa Act to provisions of S. 744 affecting employers of skilled professionals. (An updated chart on S. 744 is available here.)
Other Bills Cleared by the House Judiciary Committee
The Legal Workforce Act would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers at a quick pace – within two years after enactment. The bill would pre-empt state laws mandating E-Verify use, but states could withhold licenses and impose fines on businesses failing to comply with electronic verification requirements. The SAFE Act is a border and interior enforcement bill that, among other things, would increase the ability of local police to enforce immigration laws, accelerate and expand the government’s expedited removal and detention power, and augment visa security measures at consular posts. The AG Act would create a new agricultural guestworker program to replace the H-2A program.