RELIEF ACT - The Boldest Immigration Proposal in Recent Years

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RELIEF ACT - The Boldest Immigration Proposal in Recent Years.png

Once a while, you do get a nice surprise while browsing through the myriad of daily emails, news updates, briefings, etc.  The surprise came yesterday when I was reading the new RELIEF ACT drafted by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.  The proposed law - Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families Act - is one of the boldest immigration proposal that any legislator has put on the table in recent years.  

Senator Durbin was actually the lobbying target during the last few weeks regarding another pending Senate Bill S. 386, which eliminates the per-country cap for employment-based immigration visa categories.  Senator Durbin single-handedly held up the unanimous Senate consent vote on S. 386, thus blocking its passage in September.  A few weeks later, Senator Durbin came up with a bill - if passed - that can actually solve the longstanding problem of immigrant visa backlog. 
The RELIEF ACT proposes the following changes in the immigrant visa system:
  • Stop counting the children and spouses of legal permanent residents against the immigrant visa cap. This is to be achieved by counting the children and spouses as "immediate relatives", like with petitions by citizens, and not subjecting derivative beneficiaries to the annual visa cap for employment-based petitions. This would free up many visa numbers that are counted toward the annual visa quota.
  • Put protection in place for children who "age out" of their category while waiting for visas to become available. The backlogs mean many visa applicants must wait for years to get their green card. This has proved problematic for their children, who can reach 21 years-old before then and become ineligible as derivative beneficiaries.
  • Get rid of country caps for immigrant visas, as proposed in H.R. 1044. Durbin also proposes to extend the "hold harmless" clause from H.R. 1044. This would mean continuing to distribute visas in their current order to those who have approved immigration petitions for a five-year period after enactment.
  • Eliminates the current backlogs of immigrant visa cases.  Most strikingly, RELIEF ACT plans to eliminate the current backlogs of family-based and employment-based immigrant visa petitions over a five-year period.  Although not explicitly stated in the Act, this would mean temporary increases in the number of available immigrant visa numbers. 


Durbin's ambitious proposal strikes at the core of the immigrant visa backlog issue. Whether we will get to observe its effects on the backlog depends on how it fares in the legislative process. Past bills have proposed similar changes but did not make it through Congress. Even if it passes in the House and Senate, there is still a strong possibility of President Trump vetoing it. His immigration policy has been one of enforcement rather than relaxation. We must wait and see if the bill passes.  However, at least for now, the bill offers a glimpse of hope for many visa applicants.


About The Author

Paul Szeto served as a Trial Attorney and Assistant District Counsel for the New York District of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, whose functions have since been transferred to DHS) from 1994 to 1999. As an INS attorney, Mr. Szeto personally handled hundreds of immigration cases. In addition to handling immigration and nationality cases inside and outside of the courtroom, he also offered legal advice to immigration inspectors and adjudicators. Towards the end of his tenure, Mr. Szeto was assigned to investigate naturalization fraud cases, prosecute employment violations, and handle the stipulated judicial removal cases with U.S. Attorney's Offices. Paul started his legal career by volunteering for legal clinics and clerking for an immigration law firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mr. Szeto also served as a student extern for the Chief Administrative Justice of the California Court of Appeal. Mr. Szeto graduated magna cum laude from San Francisco State University in 1989 and earned his Juris Doctor from University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1994. Mr. Szeto was granted the American Immigration Law Foundation's Edward L. Dubroff Memorial Award for outstanding writing in the field of Immigration and Nationality Law in 1994. Mr. Szeto is Co-Chairman of the N.J. Middlesex County Bar Association's Immigration Law and Practice Committee, frequently speaking on various immigration issues.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.