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Details of sweeping Senate immigration plan revealed

John Moore / Getty Images, file

A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks into Mexico on the border near Sonoita, Arizona. A new proposal suggests allocating $3 billion for increased surveillance and manpower along the country's southern border.

After months of negotiations, a bipartisan Senate group on Tuesday will unveil sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, an effort that has been a major focus of President Barack Obama’s second term agenda and one that some Republicans view as a political necessity.

The plan outlines an emphasis on shifting legal immigration towards more skilled workers; sets ambitious goals for surveillance and security along the nation’s southern border; and offers qualifying undocumented immigrants a decade-long process – dependent on external border security triggers -- towards legalization and eventual citizenship in the United States.

Included in the bill are the following provisions, according to a summary memo provided to NBC News:              

  • Allow undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States continually since before December 31, 2011 to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” if they pay back taxes and $500 in fines, and if they have not been convicted of a felony or 3 or more misdemeanors or voted illegally. Individuals with this status can work for any employer and travel outside the country but are not eligible to receive means-tested federal public benefits.
  •  After 10 years in Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, individuals will be eligible – pending border security measures and a clearing of existing backlogs for legal immigrants – to earn a merit-based green card if they have worked in the United States, demonstrated knowledge of the English language and paid an additional fine of $1000.
  • Allow eligible DREAM act applicants and certain agricultural workers to apply for green cards within five years
  • Regarding border security, the bill would set a goal of “90% effectiveness” – meaning the rate of apprehensions and turnbacks of potential entrants – per fiscal year in the most high-risk areas of the southern border. If that goal is not met within five years, a bipartisan “Border Commission” made up of border state governors and experts will be formed to issue new recommendations on how to achieve it.
  • Allocate $3 billion for increased surveillance and manpower along the country’s southern border and an additional $1.5 billion for fencing.
  • Include a border security “trigger” requiring that no undocumented immigrant can achieve legal “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status until strategies for border security have been submitted by the Department of Homeland Security to Congress.
  •  Require an additional “trigger” that prevents those with “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status from becoming eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status until the Department of Homeland Security and the Comptroller General certify that border security strategies are operational and a mandatory employment verification system has been implemented.
  • Create a new “W” visa program to allow non-agricultural temporary workers to come to the United States to work for registered employers. 
  •  Eliminate family-based visas for siblings of United States citizens as well as the Diversity Visa program while eliminating caps on visas for certain employment-based categories.
  •  Use a point system for a new “merit based” visa, of which 120,000 would initially be awarded per year, with a maximum cap of 250,000 annually. Points will be awarded based on criteria including education, employment and length of residence in the U.S.
  • Require an “enhanced E-Verify” system to prevent ineligible workers from taking jobs in the United States. Employers with more than 5,000 employees will be phased in within two years; employers with more than 500 employees will be phased in within three years.
  • Raise the annual cap on H1-B visas for high-skilled workers from 65,000 to 110,000, with provisions to prevent such workers from undercutting American wages. Set a maximum cap at 180,000 such visas.

While events in Boston Monday caused organizers to postpone a planned Tuesday press conference to roll out the bill, the legislation will be formally filed in the Senate later today. Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and John McCain of Arizona will visit the White House to brief the president on the plan. 

Related:
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Once filed, the process of examining the bill will begin in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where panel members will hold two hearings in the next week. The group is expected to continue its markup of the legislation into the month of May.

The proposal, drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans, represents the first major attempt to comprehensively address illegal immigration, border security, and the existing backlog for legal immigrants to the United States since a bipartisan bill stalled in the Senate in 2007. 

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