Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation that would permanently authorize four immigration programs (S. 3245). The programs include E-Verify, the EB-5 immigrant visa, the “Conrad 30″ J-1 program, and the Religious Worker immigrant visa. In the past, Congress has granted all four programs temporary extensions, and all are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year (September 30, 2012).
While true immigration reformers are familiar with the highly effective E-Verify program, the other three programs included in S.3245 are less commonly known. They are also more controversial because of significant deficiencies in oversight and fraud.
The EB-5 immigrant visa program grants nearly 10,000 green cards each year to aliens who invest $500,000 to $1 million in a “new commercial enterprise” that will benefit the U.S. economy and create at least 10 jobs. (INA § 203(b)(5)) While supporters of the program claim this program benefits the U.S. economy, critics have pointed out that the program has in fact only limited effectiveness. For example, in 2005, the GAO found that after 12 years the EB-5 program had only led to $1 billion in investments (instead of the predicted $48 billion) and there was no reliable accounting of jobs created. (See Selling America Short: The Failure of the EB-5 Visa Program, p.1) Moreover, the program measures job creation by counting jobs created both “directly” and “indirectly,” making it impossible to accurately calculate whether an investment under the EB-5 program actually creates jobs. (See 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(e))
The Religious Worker immigrant visa program allows aliens who meet certain conditions to obtain green cards to work either as a minister or as a non-minister in a religious organization. (INA § 101(a)(27)(C)) Approximately 10,000 employment-based visas are set aside each year for this program, of which 5,000 are set aside for non-minister immigrants. (INA § 203(b)(4)) The Religious Worker immigrant visa program, however, has been criticized for not requiring organizations to establish need for such immigrant workers and rampant fraud in applications. In 2005, the USCIS Office of Fraud Detection and National Security found the program had a stunning 33 percent fraud rate. (OIG-09-79, July 2009, p.1) Yet some religious institutions insist that the program alleviates an “acute shortage of non‐minister religious workers in the United States.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website) While subsequent regulations have helped reduce the fraud, serious doubts remain as to whether the program truly meets a need among religious organizations.
The “Conrad 30″ J-1 program allows aliens who are trained as doctors at U.S. universities to stay in the U.S. after their medical training under certain circumstances. (INA § 214(l); USCIS website) Generally, the J-1 program — which allows aliens to train as doctors in the U.S. — requires such doctors return home for at least two years before returning to the U.S. as a nonimmigrant or immigrant. (INA §212(e)) The Conrad 30 J-1 program, however, waives the home residency requirement for doctors who work in certain rural areas. The “30″ designation refers to the number of J-1 doctors each state may sponsor for a waiver of the home residency requirement. As a result, not only does the Conrad 30 program displace U.S. doctors, but it also deprives developing countries of much-needed medical care providers (referred to as “brain drain”) by waiving the requirement aliens return to their home country. (New York Times, Mar. 7, 2012)
Although S. 3245 was introduced by two powerful, senior members of the Senate, it is unclear at this point whether the legislation will move forward. Some Senators have voiced a preference for a temporary re-authorization of these four programs instead to help ensure that needed reforms will be adopted and implemented. The FY2013 Senate Homeland Security Appropriations bill includes a two-year temporary extension of the four programs, whereas the FY2013 House Homeland Security Appropriations Bill includes a one-year re-authorization of the E-Verify program only. (S. 3216 at § 554; H.R. 5855 at § 548) Stay tuned to FAIR for updates on where these pieces of legislation stand…