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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. BIDEN (for himself and Mr. Lugar):

S. 1684. 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 or natural disaster reconstruction, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, two of the greatest challenges we face today are how to address the needs of postconflict countries, and countries that are suffering from large-scale natural disasters. These are critical issues, and ones 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.

On the post-conflict front, a recent 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.''

Currently, the most obvious case in point is the reconstruction of Iraq. In addition to Iraq, unfortunately, we can talk about many other states that are either unstable, or are tenuously recovering from past conflicts including Afghanistan, East Timor, Kosovo, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Earthquakes, floods, drought and landslides often have the most dire impacts in developing countries that are the least equipped to respond. The countries ravaged by the 2004 tsunami are recovering, but there is still a long way to go: Indonesia lost over 150,000 people, with half a million left homeless. In India, almost 20,000 people lost their lives and 2.79 million people were affected, losing homes, land, and livestock. The tsunami set back development in the Maldives by 20 years, devastating the country's economic backbone and tourism industry.

We need comprehensive, and creative, strategies to help countries rebound from conflicts or natural disasters. One such strategy is to allow, and indeed encourage, immigrants to the United States to use their skills, talents, and knowledge to help rebuild their native lands. The diaspora is an extraordinary collective resource. These individuals know the communities. They know the culture. They know the language, more than any contractors, and more than any humanitarian workers from the outside, no matter how well-trained they may be or how much expertise they may have.

So today, I am introducing legislation, as I did in the last Congress, that would create a ``return of talent'' visa program.

The idea is simple: to allow legal immigrants in the United States to return home to help with reconstruction efforts, without jeopardizing their immigration status. Legal permanent residents will be able to return temporarily to their countries after a conflict or a significant natural disaster to help rebuild, without their time out of the United States affecting their ability to meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

Under current law, a legal permanent resident who wants to apply for U.S. citizenship is required to be physically present in the United States for at least half of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the naturalization application.

This residency requirement could be particularly difficult to meet for those who have family and friends in their countries of origin who are in desperate need of help, and whose skills are especially in demand to help their countries of origin rebuild, for example, teachers, engineers, translators, and health care workers. We should not stand in their way of returning, bringing their talent and expertise home, and helping them help others at a time of greatest need.

This legislation would encourage skilled and committed individuals to return to their countries of origin to revive the business, industry, agriculture, education, health and other sectors that have been weakened or destroyed after years of conflict or devastating disasters.

The program would apply to immigrants from countries where U.S. Armed Forces have engaged in armed conflict or peacekeeping, or countries where the United Nations Security Council has authorized peacekeeping operations in the past 10 years. Immigrants from countries which received funding from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance also would be eligible to participate in the program.

Estimates of the number of individuals who could participate in this program are relatively low. For example, the United States admitted 4,749 Afghani and 4,077 Iraqi immigrants in 2005 who are now legal permanent residents eligible to pursue U.S. citizenship. Immigrants from Indonesia numbered 3,924 and Bangladesh, 11,487 in the same year. 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 reconstruction work.

At this moment the Senate is seized with finding a resolution to the massive and critical question of immigration reform. A return of talent program would fit well with whatever decisions we reach because, simply put, everybody wins: The United States is able to support badly needed rebuilding efforts without increasing foreign aid; immigrants are able to use their skills and resources to help communities without disrupting their path to U.S. citizenship; and communities abroad that are recovering from conflict and disaster receive much-needed assistance.

A return of talent program is an important piece of our overall strategy to stabilize and rebuild countries torn by conflict and devastated by natural disaster. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 1684


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