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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce calls for Congress to compromise and pass immigration reform

4

September

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's board of directors is urging Congress to look for a compromise and pass comprehensive immigration reform that would spur economic growth.

In June, the U.S. Senate passed a wide-ranging immigration reform bill that has since been stalled in the House of Representatives.

Here is the chamber's position, approved late last week:

We need to continue to be a growing immigrant nation and we cannot do so in a productive manner under the current immigration system. This impacts all of us, including the business community.

The nation is aging and our growth is slow under historical rates. Employment and payrolls as a percentage of the population are decreasing, which places limits on economic growth and the ability to increase the tax revenue derived from having more workers.

To grow economically, we need to attract and retain junior workers and we need more skilled workers, among other business needs that can be served by immigration reform. As an example, proper immigration reform can allow us to retain the foreign students that want to stay in the U.S. after graduation and can slow the exporting of skilled jobs that migrate offshore due to a lack of such workers in the U.S.A.

The Senate immigration bill addresses a number of important objectives that will benefit the business community. In negotiations with the House, other business goals can be addressed, such as increasing the number of guest-workers to help address the dynamics of our economy and demand for labor.

A predictable and reliable immigration system that attracts and rewards more people that yearn to pursue economic freedom and prosperity in our country is good for business. We urge compromise on both sides to pass a pro-growth and comprehensive immigration reform law.

The Senate bill, which passed 68-32 with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson in the majority, would represent the most sweeping changes to immigration law in nearly 30 years. It offers up to 11 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and spending tens of billions of dollars on a massive security buildup along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Key points of the Senate bill, according to the Associated Press, include:

Border security

• The bill's spending on border security totals around $46 billion on improvements aimed to provide 100 percent surveillance of the U.S.-Mexican border and to ensure that 90 percent of would-be crossers are caught or turned back.

• The number of Border Patrol agents would be roughly doubled to at least 38,405 along the border with Mexico.

• The bill calls for about 350 new miles of fence and completing 700 miles of fence.

• Electronic verification: All employers must implement E-Verify, a program to verify electronically their workers' legal status, within four years.

• Tracking: The bill calls for a new electronic system to track people leaving U.S. airports and seaports.

Path to citizenship

• If the Department of Homeland Security develops the required upgrades to border security and fencing, an estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally could obtain "registered provisional immigrant status" six months after enactment of the bill if:

1. They arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.

2. They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.

3. They pay a $500 fine.

• Provisional legal status: lasts six years and is renewable for another six years for $500. People with this status could work and travel in the U.S. but wouldn't be eligible for most federal benefits, including health care and welfare.

• Green card application: After 10 years in provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are current on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the United States, meet work requirements and learn English. Also the border triggers must have been met, and all people waiting to immigrate through the legal system as of the date of enactment of the legislation must have been dealt with.

• Youths: People brought to the country as youths would be able to get green cards in five years, and citizenship thereafter.

High-skilled workers

• Cap on H-1B visas: would be immediately raised from 65,000 a year to 110,000 a year, with 25,000 more set aside for people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. The cap could go as high as 180,000 a year.

• Exemptions: Immigrants such as professors, researchers, multinational executives and athletes would be exempted from existing green-card limits. So would graduates of U.S. universities with job offers and degrees in science, technology, engineering or math.

• Startup visa: would be made available to foreign entrepreneurs seeking to come to the U.S. to start a company.

• New merit visa: For a maximum of 250,000 people a year, would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations.

Low-skilled workers

• New W visa: would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled workers a year into the country for jobs in construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries.

• Agriculture worker visa: The existing program would be replaced. Agriculture workers already here illegally, who have worked in the industry at least two years, could qualify in another five years for green cards if they stay in the industry.

Family immigration

• Under current law, U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, children and siblings to come to the U.S., with limits on some categories. The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if those children are under age 31.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 1:13pm]

    

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