The US Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill this week to overhaul the country's immigration system and give millions of unauthorized foreigners a path to citizenship.
The legislation aims to achieve three main goals: create a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, secure US borders against illegal entry and make it easier for businesses to hire workers from abroad when needed.
The bill faces a long, difficult road and changes on the Senate floor and in the House of Representatives. The full Senate is expected to start work on the bill in June.
Below are major provisions of the complex Senate legislation:
Legalization of undocumented residents
* Foreigners living in the United States illegally could apply to adjust their status to "registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status" within 180 days after enactment, provided the secretary of Homeland Security submits to Congress a strategy for securing US borders.
* Only those who arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011, could apply and they would have to pay a $500 fee and back taxes. Those convicted of felonies or three or more misdemeanors would not be eligible.
* Immigrants who win RPI status could work for any employer and would be allowed to travel outside the United States.
* RPI status would last for six years and can be renewed. At this point, the immigrants would be re-evaluated to make sure they were not running afoul of the law.
* After 10 years, those with RPI status can adjust to a permanent resident status if they are working regularly and speak English. Permanent residents are among those who under current law may apply for citizenship.
* Two groups would be put on a faster track to permanent resident status: children brought into the United States illegally and certain farm workers. They could get "green cards" in five years. The children would be eligible for citizenship immediately after getting green cards.
* About 40 per cent of employment-based visas would be allocated to professionals with advanced degrees to work in the sciences, arts and other professions, including certain people with foreign medical degrees. Those holding graduate degrees in engineering, mathematics, science and technology from US universities also would be included.
* Employment visas for skilled workers and certain professionals would be increased to 40 percent of the total. And a new visa would be created for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start their own companies in the United States.
* The "V visa" would be expanded to help unify families by allowing foreign relatives to live in the United States and for certain other family members to visit the United States for up to 60 days per year.
* Immigrant visas for siblings and adult children of US citizens would be repealed 18 months after the date of enactment.
* A backlog for family and employment-based immigrants would be eliminated.
* A merit-based visa would be created the fifth year after enactment and would award points to individuals based on education, employment, length of residence in the United States and other considerations. There would be 120,000 such visas available annually, with the number rising by 5 per cent per year if demand exceeds supply and the US jobless rate is below 8.5 percent. It would be capped at 250,000 visas.
* Employers would have to use an "E-Verify" system to ensure that they are hiring legal workers. It would be phased in over a five-year period.
* The cap on H-1B temporary visas for high-skilled workers would be raised to 115,000 from a current base limit of 65,000. In future years, the cap could rise to as high as 180,000.
* Companies that have more than 15 percent of their skilled workforce on H-1B work visas would be required to make a good faith effort to recruit Americans before foreigners for a job.
* A new "W-Visa" for low-skilled workers would be created and spouses and minor children of those workers would be allowed to accompany them to the United States. The number of visas would be capped for the first four years at 20,000, 35,000, 55,000 and 75,000, respectively.
* A new government bureau would determine changes to limits on such visas and devise methods for determining domestic labor shortages in regions.
* Wages for low-skilled immigrant workers would be dictated by either the wage paid to other employees with similar experience or based on a prevailing wage level for occupations in geographic regions, whichever is higher.
* Current undocumented farm workers would be able to win legal status if they have made a "substantial prior commitment" to farm work in the United States. A new agricultural guest worker visa program would be created to ensure an adequate workforce.
* The US border with Mexico will be targeted for increased security. Washington would set a goal of catching or turning back 90 percent of illegal entries.
* $3 billion would be devoted to improving border surveillance and detection, adding law enforcement officers and operating aerial surveillance.
* Another $1.5 billion would be used to improve border fencing.
* Within six years, fingerprinting and other biometric technology that analyze human characteristics would be installed at the 30 busiest US airports to track immigrants when they leave the country.
* If the 90 percent effectiveness rate has not been reached during the first five years after enactment, a new border commission would be created. It would be staffed by the four border-state governors or their appointees and experts appointed by bipartisan leaders of Congress.
* The commission would recommend ways to improve security. Washington would provide another $2 billion to carry out the recommendations.