US President Barack Obama has come out with his much-awaited comprehensive immigration reforms, that, among other things, will pave way for legalisation of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The reforms, which also propose to eliminate the annual country caps in the employment category, are expected to benefit large number of Indian technocrats and professionals. In a major policy speech on comprehensive immigration in Las Vegas, Obama urged the Congress to act on his proposals.
"It (immigration) keeps our workforce young, it keeps our country on the cutting edge, and it's helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known. After all, immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo. They created entire new industries that in turn created new jobs and new prosperity for our citizens," Obama said.
The other key proposals of his "comprehensive" reform plan include "stapling" a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), PhD and Masters Degree graduates from qualified US universities who have found employment in the country.
The President also proposed to create a startup visa for job-creating entrepreneurs.
The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs, who attract financing or revenue from American investors and customers, to start and grow their businesses in the US, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen the economy.
The proposal removes the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system.
Outdated legal immigration programs are reformed to meet current and future demands by exempting certain categories from annual visa limitations, the White House said.
Obama also proposed to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers.
The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from seven per cent to 15 per cent for the family-sponsored immigration system.
It also treats same-sex units as families by giving US citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa based on permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.
The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive them in cases of hardship.
"In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. One in 4 new small-business owners were immigrants, including right here in Nevada, folks who came here seeking opportunity and now want to share that opportunity with other Americans," Obama said.
"But we all know that today we have an immigration system that's out of date and badly broken. A system that's holding us back instead of helping us grow our economy and strengthen our middle class," he noted.
Among other things, the proposals include creating a startup visa for job-creating entrepreneurs, expand opportunities for investor visas and US economic development and create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.
Referring to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, of which more than 2,40,000 are from India, Obama said though they have broken the rules, but it is "impossible" to deport them.
"These 11 million men and women are now here. Many of them have been here for years. And the overwhelming majority of these individuals aren't looking for any trouble. They're contributing members of the community. They're woven into the
fabric of our lives," Obama said.
He noted the change in the system was needed to strengthen country's middle class and create more opportunities.
"We have to bring this shadow economy into light so that everybody is held accountable," he said.
The reforms also aim at holding back the "brilliant" talents in the country once they complete their education at US institutions, Obama said, noting that this was not happening due to lack of a liberal immigration policy.
"We're giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we're going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else. That's not how you grow new industries in America. That's how you give new industries to our competitors," the President said.
Obama cited examples of companies like Intel and Instagram to highlight contributions by the immigrant community towards development of US economy.
Urging the Congress to immediately act on his comprehensive immigration reform, Obama said the good news is that for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together.
"Members of both parties in both chambers are actively working on a solution. Yesterday a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform which are very much in line with the principles I've proposed and campaigned," he said.
"My hope is that this provides some key markers to members of Congress as they craft a bill," Obama added.
Details of US immigration reform proposals
President Barack Obama pushed Congress to reform immigration laws on Tuesday, a campaign promise he made last year to Hispanics when running for re-election.
His speech in Las Vegas came a day after a bipartisan group of US senators unveiled the outlines of an immigration reform proposal that they will try to pass this year.
Many details still have to be worked out before the outlines can be translated into legislation. Here are the main elements:
* A PATH TO CITIZENSHIP: There are an estimated 11 million people living in the United States who arrived illegally. Most are from Mexico, Central American and South American countries.
The senators' plan would require those here illegally to register with the government and pass a background check. They would have to pay a fine and back taxes to earn a "probationary legal status."
Those people earning the status would go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants who have applied through legal means to come to the United States. They also will have to learn English and pay taxes to apply for a "green card" to live and work permanently in the United States.
From there, they could apply for citizenship.
* BORDER SECURITY MEASURES: The Senate plan is contingent on doing more to secure US borders, mainly the border with Mexico. This would include increasing the number of unmanned aerial vehicles and other surveillance equipment and adding border law enforcement agents.
An entry-exit system would be completed to track whether everyone entering the United States on temporary visas via airports and seaports have left the country as required by law.
Obama's plan does not make the green card process for illegal immigrants contingent on more border security measures, although he said he wants to see new penalties for cross-border crimes and a crackdown on businesses hiring illegal workers.
* HIGH-TECH WORKERS: The proposals include measures to keep and attract workers with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This would be aimed both at foreign students attending American universities where they are earning advanced degrees, and high-tech workers abroad. US corporations have been lobbying for years for such a provision.
* YOUNG ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: Last summer, Obama gave a temporary reprieve from deportation to qualifying children who came to the United States with their parents. Under the Senate proposal, this group would not be subjected to the same requirements for being put on a path to citizenship.
* FARM WORKERS: The Senate plan sets up a special guest worker program for jobs like harvesting vegetables. But Obama's plan treats farm workers the same as other illegal immigrants.
* EMPLOYMENT VERIFICATION SYSTEM: Improvements would be made in holding US employers accountable for knowingly hiring undocumented workers and make it harder for illegal immigrants to falsify documents to get jobs. Meanwhile, the US government would provide faster, more reliable methods to confirm whether new hires are in the United States legally.
* FAMILY-SPONSORED IMMIGRATION: Obama wants to increase the number of family-sponsored immigrants allowed, and would allow US citizens and permanent residents to apply for visa for same-sex partners. The Senate plan does not address this.