The Senate’s “Gang of Eight” provided an outline of the highly anticipated immigration reform bill today, but decided to hold off on introducing the legislation into the Senate until later this week due to the terrorist event in Boston, Massachusetts yesterday.

The bill, by four Democrats and four Republicans, is the most ambitious effort in at least 26 years to repair, update and reshape the American immigration system. It will not only to fix chronic problems in the system and bring an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to the right side of the law, but would also reorient future immigration with the goal of bringing foreigners to the country increasingly based on the job skills and personal assets they can offer.

For the first time, the legislation would create a merit-based program to award the visa for legal permanent residents, known as a green card, based on a point system. When the merit system takes effect, five years after the bill is passed, at least 120,000 immigrants already living in the United States and people outside the country would be able to gain green cards by accumulating points based on their skills and education, as well as their family ties and the time they have lived in the United States.

Over a decade, staff members familiar with the bill said, the balance in the immigration system would gradually shift, from 75 percent of visas that now go to family members of immigrants already here. As a result of the merit program and other visa changes, closer to 50 percent of visas annually would go to immigrants based on their family ties, while about half would go to foreigners based on job skills.

The bill also responds to the demands of American farmers and other employers of seasonal workers by creating two new guest-worker programs, one for farmworkers and another for low-wage laborers.

The legislation would give employers in technology and science fields tens of thousands of new temporary and permanent resident visas annually, which they have been urgently seeking for tech workers and foreign graduates with advanced degrees from American universities. It immediately raises current annual caps on temporary high-skilled visas, known as H-1B, to 110,000 from 65,000, while adding 5,000 more of those visas for the foreign graduates. The cap would gradually rise to 180,000 annually.

The legislation would create a “start-up” visa for foreign entrepreneurs who want to come here to found companies that employ Americans.

The bill would also offer a fast track to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. They would be eligible to become citizens after only five years.

Of the many compromises in the bill, perhaps the most original is the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Several Republicans, especially Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, insisted that there could be no special, separate path for illegal immigrants. But Democrats, led by Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, were fighting for a direct, manageable pathway that would ensure most immigrants here illegally a chance to earn their way to becoming citizens.

In a first phase, those immigrants would spend a minimum of 10 years in Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, which would allow them to work and travel. At the end of 10 years, they would be eligible to apply for green cards through the merit system.

Source: New York Times