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Gaining legal status in this country does not necessarily mean obtaining a green card or a US passport. It may just mean an alien is allowed to temporarily work or reside in the US.  Under present rules though, an alien who overstays in this country cannot apply for a work permit, per se, unless it is coupled with a principal immigration benefit applied for.

More than 25 years ago, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA – 1986) provided for a blanket amnesty that gave about two million undocumented aliens lawful permanent residence.

At present, the immigrant community is advocating for the same pot of gold to come its way through the proposed Immigration Reform Act of 2013 (IRA).  IRA contains legalization provisions, but the process is not quite as “expeditious” or “swift” as it was under the 1986 amnesty law (IRCA) which literally  required  ‘one step’  –  filling out the forms and submitting the application for a green card.

IRA, the proposed bill, has a long and stringent  procedure.  There is a two-stage process that can take more than 10 years to accomplish.

The first step is to apply to adjust from an illegal to a legal status called a “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI).   To qualify, he or she must (a) have resided in the US prior to 12/31/2011 and maintained continuous presence since then; (b) pay a $500 penalty fee; and, most importantly, (c) not have been convicted of an aggravated felony, felony, three or more misdemeanors, or an offense under foreign law or unlawfully voted or have  not been inadmissible for criminal, national security, public health or other morality grounds.

Once approved as an RPI, the applicant is allowed to work in the United States and even travel abroad.

If you have been in this country for more than 25 years without papers, this is a chance of a lifetime for you. There is no doubt (sin duda) about it. It does not automatically grant full-fledged “green card holder” benefits, but it is a  legal reprieve from long years of unlawful employment and undeserved minimum wage.

Spouses and children residing in the US can avail themselves of such status as derivatives, and even those with removal orders or are in removal proceedings can take advantage of it.  The applicants would be given one year within which to file their applications (the period may be extended for one more year) in the event the bill becomes a law.

But, back to reality, unlike the 1986 amnesty through which mere filing of the application could have quickly resulted in  the issuance of a green card, the RPI status will not guarantee a “lawful permanent resident” (LPR) status even after the lapse of 10 years  because more conditions are being imposed.

These conditions are: (a) continued presence in the US; (b) payment of all taxes since becoming RPI; (c) employment on a regular basis; (d) knowledge of civics and English;  (e) all people currently waiting for family and employment-based green cards as of the date of the enactment have their priority date become current; and (f) payment of a $1,000 fee.

A perusal of the condition suggests that waiting could  extend beyond 10 years.  “All people” (that is a lot) with pending family and employment- based applications for green cards have to be granted theirs first before the RPIs can proceed. Due to this possibility, the bill further proposes that an  RPI status be renewable every six years as long as the alien maintains a clean record – that is free from acts that might cause  deportation or removal.

Indeed, the road is long, but the grass is greener on the other side of the mountain, and  it is of utmost importance that the bill offers deserving undocumented aliens a chance to have legal status. It is a privilege and,  ultimately, a reward to those who followed a legislated lawful path.