Congress set to reauthorize several immigration programs this fall

9 Sep 15

UNITED STATES

Several immigration-related priorities will be on the Congressional agenda as members return from August recess. Four important immigration programs are scheduled to expire, or “sunset,” Sept. 30 – the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, E-Verify, the Special Immigrant Religious Worker program, and the Conrad 30 Waiver program. However, Congress is expected to reauthorize each of these programs.

EB-5 Immigrant Investor

Three bills have been introduced in Congress to reauthorize the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, which has been the subject of controversy over the past year as allegations of improper influence by government officials prompted inquiries during congressional oversight hearings.

Commonly known as the “investor visa,” the EB-5 allows entrepreneurs to apply for green cards if they make a substantial investment in a commercial enterprise in the U.S. and demonstrate that they will create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for U.S. workers.

On Jan. 28, Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) introduced the “American Entrepreneurship and Investment Act of 2015” (H.R. 616), and on July 29, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced the “Entrepreneurial Business Creating Jobs Act of 2015” (“EB-JOBS Act of 2015,” H.R. 3370). While both House bills would permanently reauthorize the program, the EB-JOBS Act would create a path to a green card for start-up entrepreneurs who are backed by venture capital or self-sponsored. In the Senate, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the “American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2015” (S. 1501) on June 3. This bill would reauthorize the program until 2020 and, among other reforms, would increase government oversight and transparency, require higher minimum investment amounts, and allow EB-5 investors with current priority dates to file green card applications concurrently with their EB-5 petitions.

E-Verify

A number of bills have been introduced to either extend the E-Verify program or permanently reauthorize it.

The EB-JOBS Act of 2015 would reauthorize the E-Verify program until Sept. 30, 2020. Other bills that would permanently reauthorize E-Verify and alter its structure include the “New Illegal Deduction Elimination Act” (“New IDEA Act,” H.R. 841) introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Feb. 10, and the “Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act” (S. 1032) introduced by Grassley on April 21.

E-Verify is the electronic system that employers use to verify employees’ authorization to work in the U.S. The system compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration data. Certain employers who enter into contracts with the federal government are legally required to participate in E-Verify, and many states have enacted laws mandating wider participation.

Religious Workers

The Special Immigrant Religious Worker program allows ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations to obtain green cards to perform full-time, paid religious work in the U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a bill, S.1339, on May 14 that would make this program permanent. Additionally, the EB-JOBS Act of 2015 would reauthorize the program until Sept. 30, 2020.

Conrad 30 Waiver (Foreign Doctors)

The Conrad 30 Waiver program allows medical doctors present in the U.S. on the J-1 visa to apply for a waiver of the requirement that they return to their foreign residence for two years after completing the J-1 exchange visa program. On May 5, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the “Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Act” (S. 1189), which would make this program permanent and expand it. On March 31, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) proposed the “Doctors Helping Heroes Act of 2015” (H.R. 1272), which would also make the program permanent. In addition, the EB-JOBS Act of 2015 introduced by Lofgren in July would permanently reauthorize the program.

BAL Analysis: BAL anticipates that the four programs will be reauthorized, but that significant changes to the programs are unlikely because of legislative scheduling and political forces.

The limited number of legislative days in September will likely hamper the ability of Congress to reach agreement on any significant changes by the Sept. 30 deadline. The Senate will be in session for 15 days before the programs expire, while the House currently has only 10 legislative days scheduled.

The programs have not been changed in recent years. They were previously set to expire on Sept. 30, 2012 and were ultimately reauthorized without any changes in a procedural bill signed into law by President Obama on Sept. 28, 2012. The previous reauthorization and the limited amount of time remaining before the Sept. 30 deadline render it unlikely that members of Congress will make significant changes to the programs.

If the political environment tolerates any changes to immigration legislation, changes are most likely to occur in the reauthorization of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, evidenced by the bipartisan bill that has been introduced in the Senate. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has joined Leahy, a strong proponent of the program due to the number of EB-5 developments in the state of Vermont, in introducing the American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2015 (S.1501). Staff have been working behind the scenes to explore potential changes that could both broaden eligibility and reduce potential fraud in the program. However, due to the short legislative window, any changes would likely need unanimous consent in the Senate.

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