This week, both President Obama and the Senate announced frameworks for comprehensive immigration reform. The following is a comparison of key elements in each of the plans.
Path to Citizenship
Similarities: Neither plan permits a direct route to citizenship. A foreign national must first become a permanent resident with a “green card,” and then wait, usually for three to five years more, before being eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Differences: The Senate would create a commission of lawmakers and border-state leaders to assess when border-security measures have become effective. Until then, the path would be closed. However, before then, undocumented immigrants could remain in the United States lawfully by registering, passing background checks, being able to speak English, and paying back taxes and fines for their probationary legal status.
The Obama plan does not establish any border-assessment commission. It offers provisional legal status and a green card under similar terms as the Senate: registration, background checks, speaking English, and payment of fees and penalties. Immigrants on provisional legal status would not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits. They would need to get in line for permanent residency and earned citizenship behind others already in the system.
Investors and Highly Skilled Immigrants
Similarities: Both plans would award green cards to immigrants who obtain advance degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) from U.S. universities.
Differences: The Obama plan would create a new category for highly skilled foreign workers in federal science and technology labs. The Obama plan would create a start-up visa category for job-creating entrepreneurs, and it would expand visa opportunities for those who invest in the United States.
Similarities: Both plans would permit farm workers in the country without proper documentation to have a path to citizenship.
Differences: The Senate plan also would create an agricultural worker program and allow employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate that American workers aren’t available.
Differences: The Obama plan would allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor a same-sex partner for permanent resident status and temporary visas.
Similarities: Both plans would mandate tha employers use electronic employment verification, such as E-Verify, for prospective workers – U.S. and foreign citizens alike – to demonstrate legal status and identity.
Differences: The Obama plan would have exemptions for some small businesses. It also would create a fraud-resistant social security card and non-forgeable documents for those without social security cards.