Q: I understand that the Senate passed an immigration reform bill on May 25. Can you summarize what this bill says?
A: The bill provides for a legalization program for people who are illegally present in the United States; a guest worker program; more enforcement; and enough visa numbers to clear the backlogs for persons being sponsored for green cards by their employers or their relatives. For additional information about this 700+ page bill, see http://shusterman.com/toc-leg.html#6D
Q: Great! I am here illegally. When can I apply for a green card?
A: Not so fast. The Senate bill is very different from the bill passed by the House of Representatives, and until both houses of Congress agree on a compromise bill, and that bill is signed into law by the president, you can’t apply for anything.
Q: I am trying to obtain a green card through my job. How does this bill help me?
A: It would increase the number of people who are able to obtain permanent residence through their jobs by over 400 percent. Existing backlogs would be eliminated.
Q: Does the bill make it easier to obtain a temporary working visa?
A: It greatly expands the number of people who can obtain H-1B professional visas, from 85,000 per year to 135,000 with enough exemptions to reach over 200,000 visas annually.
Q: My labor certificate has been approved and so has my immigrant visa petition (I-140), but the wait for a green card is still five years. What does the bill do about this?
A: The bill changes the law to allow a person with an approved I-140 to apply immediately for adjustment of status to permanent residence, even when there is a backlog.
Q: Forget the Senate bill. What if I marry a U.S. citizen?
A: If your marriage is bona fide, you can obtain permanent residence within six to eight months. Your green card will be valid for two years. At that time, you and your spouse must submit a joint petition to make your green card truly permanent. For more information, see http://shusterman.com/marriage.html
Q: How long does it take to become a naturalized citizen?
A: Generally, you must be a permanent resident for five years. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, this time is reduced to three years. If you are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, there is no residence requirement. The new bill would reduce the general residency requirement from five to four years. For additional information about naturalization, see shusterman.com/toc-usc.html
Carl Shusterman is a former INS Trial Attorney and a certified specialist in immigration and nationality law. He manages a five-attorney practice based in Los Angeles. (213) 623-4592.