U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) has filed several amendments to S.744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill, that would benefit students, scholars, and researchers hoping to enrich their studies through cultural exchange programs, refugees undergoing a mentally and physically exhausting transition process, and asylum-seekers who fear persecution if forced to return to their country of origin.
"America draws strength from the imagination and innovation of immigrants who come here in search of opportunity for a better life. Their contributions have enriched our nation both intellectually and culturally, and it's critical that the comprehensive immigration bill assists them in that endeavor," Senator King said. "My amendments would preserve a vital cross-cultural exchange program that has benefited our nation for years, and would fix ineffective immigrant laws that often leave refugee populations in difficult situations. By providing those refugees with more efficient and targeted assistance, and by allowing asylum-seekers to pursue work as they apply for asylum, my amendments would better position them to contribute to our society while assisting cities and towns that welcome them."
Specifically, Senator King's amendments would:
Save and Reform the J1 Visa Program: The State Department's J1 Visa Program exists to foster increased global understanding through sponsor-based educational and cross cultural exchanges. The immigration reform bill, as currently written, would effectively kill the program by including it in a well-intended but overly-broad provision meant to curtail abuses across all visa programs. The expansive provision prohibits all visa program sponsors from collecting fees from program participants, but unlike other program sponsors, J1 sponsors often rely on lawfully generated fee revenues to support their cultural exchange programs and provide for the welfare of the participant. Senator King's amendment would save the J1 Visa Program by removing it from the jurisdiction of the provision, and reform the program to combat abuses by giving the State Department greater authority to oversee and regulate fees and increase disclosure and transparency. As a result, the amendment would preserve a valuable diplomatic exchange program while also allowing law-abiding sponsors to remain in business.
Update Funding Formula for Refugee Assistance: The Department of Health and Human Services's Office of Refugee Resettlement provides targeted financial assistance to refugees and other designated groups that are transitioning into the United States. Under current law, an outdated mathematical formula uses years-old data on previous refugee populations to determine the amount of assistance allocated to state and local municipalities for distribution to new refugees. Senator King's amendment would update the formula to utilize currently available data, in combination with statistic projections of future refugee populations, in order to more accurately and efficiently serve immigrants as they arrive, rather than retroactively. The amendment would also allow for the financial support to follow a refugee if he or she moves to a different location, which would greatly assist towns and cities that welcome new immigrants.
Grant Work Authorization for Asylum-Seekers: An asylum-seeker under current law is not permitted to apply for permission to work while they are at the same time applying for asylum status from the federal government. As a result, without any way to earn an income, asylum-seekers are often left struggling to make ends meet and must often turn to general financial assistance from local municipalities while their asylum application is pending. Senator King's amendment would modify the law to allow asylum-seekers to apply for work authorization while filing their application for asylum, thereby helping asylum-seekers to earn an income while also alleviating the pressure placed on municipal finances.