STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
By Mr. BIDEN:
S. 1949. A bill to establish The Return of Talent Program to allow aliens who are legally present in the United States to return temporarily to the country of citizenship of the alien if that country is engaged in post-conflict reconstruction, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, one of the greatest challenges we face today is how to address the needs of failed states-or countries that are on the verge of becoming failed states-and how to rebuild post-conflict countries. It is a critical issue, and one that we cannot afford to get wrong-for the sake of the people living in those nations, and for the sake of our own security.
Last January, a bipartisan commission organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Association of the U.S. Army found to no one's surprise that "failed states matter-for national security as well as for humanitarian reasons. If left to their own devices, such states can become sanctuaries for terrorist networks, organized crime and drug traffickers, as well as posing grave humanitarian challenges and threats to regional stability."
The most obvious case in point is the reconstruction of Iraq. I've spent many hours on this floor making clear that we have to get it right in Iraq. And in addition to Iraq, unfortunately, we can talk about many other states that are either unstable, or are tenuously recovering from past conflicts including Liberia, Afghanistan, East Timor, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. We need comprehensive strategies to address the many needs in rebuilding all of these struggling countries.
A significant component of reconstruction, in my view, is to tap into the store of human as well as financial resources here in the United States. We should allow, and indeed encourage, immigrants from post-conflict countries to use their skills, talents,and knowledge to be part of the efforts to rebuild. In fact, the diaspora presents one of the best collective resources that exists: these people know the communities. They know the culture. They know the language-more than any contractors, more than any humanitarian workers from the outside, no matter how well-trained, no matter how much expertise they may have.
So today, Mr. President, I am introducing legislation creating a visa "Return of Talent" program.
The idea is simple: a Return of Talent program would allow legal immigrants in the United States to return home to help with reconstruction. "Legal Permanent Residents" will be able to return temporarily to their countries after a conflict to help rebuild, without their time out of the United States affecting their ability to meet their requirements for U.S. citizenship.
Under current law, a Legal Permanent Resident who want to apply for U.S. citizenship is required to be physically present in the United States for at least half of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing the naturalization application.
This residency requirement could be particularly difficult to meet for those who may have family and friends at home who are in desperate need of help. We should not stand in their way of going home, holding over them their hope for citizenship here in the United States. We should be helping them bring their talent and expertise home, helping them help their country of origin at a time of greatest need.
Recent press articles have highlighted stories of such indivduals-engineers, bankers, teachers and translators-who are willing to contribute to reconstruction efforts. They simply cannot do so without jeopardizing their immigration status.
This legislation would encourage those skilled and committed individuals to return to their countries of origin to revive the business, industry, agriculture, education and other sectors that have been weakened or destroyed after years of conflict.
The Return of Talent program would include any individual who demonstrates an ability and willingness to make a material contribution to the post-conflict reconstruction in their countries of origin.
The program would apply to immigrants from countries where U.S. armed forces are, or have engaged in the past ten years, in armed conflict or peacekeeping, or to immigrants who are from countries where the United Nations Security Council has authorized peacekeeping operations in the past ten years.
Estimates of individuals who could participate in this program are relatively low. For example, the United States admitted 1,764 Afghani and 5,196 Iraqi immigrants in 2002, and similar levels since 1992, who are not Legal Permanent Residents eligible to pursue U.S. citizenship. Yet, while the program would have a small impact on the U.S. naturalization process, the contributions of even a few hundred individuals could have a tremendous positive effect on post-conflict reconstruction work.
In simple terms, a Return of Talent program makes sense. Everybody wins: The United States is able to support rebuilding efforts; immigrants are able to use their skills and resources to help rebuild their communities without jeopardizing their immigration status; and post-conflict countries, and the people in them, receive much-needed assistance.
We have not done enough in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries that are-or are on the verge of becoming-failed states. As the "Winning the Peace" report also states, "Despite over a decade of recent experience in trying to address the challenges of . . . rebuilding countries following conflict, U.S. capacity of addressing these challenges remains woefully inadequate."
A Return of Talent program is an important piece of our overall strategy to stabilize and rebuild countries torn by conflict. I urge my colleagues to support his legislation.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD as follows:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the "Return of Talent Act".
SEC. 2. RETURN OF TALENT PROGRAM.
(a) IN GENERAL.-Title III of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1401 et seq.) is amended by inserting after section 317 the following:
"TEMPORARY ABSENCE OF PERSONS PARTICIPATING IN THE RETURN OF TALENT PROGRAM
"SEC. 317A. (a) IN GENERAL.-The Secretary of Homeland Security shall establish the Return of Talent Program to permit eligible aliens to temporarily return to the alien's country of citizenship in order to make a material contribution to that country if the country is engaged in post-conflict reconstruction activities, for a period not exceeding 24 months, unless an exception is granted under subsection (d).
"(b) ELIGIBLE ALIEN.-An alien is eligible to participate in the Return of Talent Program established under subsection (a) if the alien meets the special immigrant description under section 101(a)(27)(N).
"© FAMILY MEMBERS.-The spouse, parents, siblings, and any children of an alien who participates in the Return of Talent Program established under subsection (a) may return to such alien's country of citizenship with the alien and reenter the United States with the alien.
"(d) EXTENSION OF TIME.-The Secretary of Homeland Security may extend the 24-month period referred to in subsection (a) upon a showing that circumstances warrant that an extension is necessary for post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
"(e) RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS.-An immigrant described in section 101(a)(27)(N) who participates in the Return of Talent Program established under subsection (a), and the spouse, parents, siblings, and any children who accompany such immigrant to that immigrant's country of citizenship, shall be considered, during such period of participation in the program-
"(1) for purposes of section 316(a), physically present and residing in the United States for purposes of naturalization within the meaning of that section; and
"(2) for purposes of section 316(b), to meet the continuous residency requirements in that section
"(f) OVERSIGHT AND ENFORCEMENT.-The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall oversee and enforce the requirements of this section.".
(b) TABLE OF CONTENTS.-The table of contents for the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.) is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 317 the following:
"317A. Temporary absence of persons participating in the Return of Talent Program.".
SEC. 3. ELIGIBLE IMMIGRANTS.
Section 101(a)(27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)) is amended-
(1) in subparagraph (L), by inserting a semicolon after "Improvement Act of 1998";
(2) in subparagraph (M), by striking the period and inserting "; or"; and
(3) by adding at the end the following:
"(N) an immigrant who-
"(i) has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence;
"(ii) demonstrates an ability and willingness to make a material contribution to the post-conflict reconstruction in the alien's country of citizenship; and
"(iii) as determined by the Secretary of State in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security-
"(I) is a citizen of a country in which Armed Forces of the United States are engaged, or have engaged in the 10 years preceding such determination, in combat or peacekeeping operations; or
"(II) is a citizen of a country where authorization for United Nations peacekeeping operations was initiated by the United Nations Security Council during the 10 years preceding such determination.".
SEC. 4. REPORT TO CONGRESS.
Not later than 24 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit a report to Congress that describes-
(1) the countries of citizenship of the participants in the Return of Talent Program established under section 2;
(2) the post-conflict reconstruction efforts that benefited, or were made possible, through participation in the program; and
(3) any other information that the Secretary of Homeland Security determines to be appropriate.
SEC. 5. REGULATIONS.
Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall promulgate regulations to carry out this Act.
SEC. 6. AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.
There is authorized to be appropriated to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services for each of the fiscal years 2004 and 2005, such sums as may be necessary to carry out this Act.