Reauthorizing Certain Visa Programs

Floor Speech

By:  Lamar Smith
Date: Sept. 11, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I'd like to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking member for introducing this legislation and for working with me to help ensure that four key immigration-related programs do not expire at the end of this month.

This Congress must ensure there is a national business climate that fosters the ability of private enterprise to create jobs for Americans and legal workers.

S. 3245, which extends for 3 years the E-Verify, EB-5 Regional Center Pilot, the Conrad 30 J-1 Visa Waiver, and the Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker programs, helps achieve this goal in several ways.

First, the E-Verify program allows employers to electronically verify that newly hired employees are authorized to work in the United States. The program is free, quick, and easy to use. Nearly 400,000 American employers use E-Verify, and over 1,000 new businesses sign up for it every week.

The American public overwhelmingly supports E-Verify. Last year, a Rasmussen poll found that 82 percent of likely voters ``think businesses should be required to use the Federal Government's E-Verify system to determine if a potential employee is in the country legally.''

E-Verify has also received bipartisan congressional support in the past. In 2008, the House passed a 5-year extension of E-Verify by a vote of 407-2. And in 2009, the Senate passed a permanent E-Verify extension by voice vote.

Ensuring that businesses have access to E-Verify will help preserve jobs for the 23 million Americans who are currently unemployed or looking for full-time work.

The investor visa program also helps create jobs for Americans. Under this program, 10,000 immigrants can receive permanent residence each year if they engage in a new commercial enterprise, invest between $500,000 and $1 million in the business, and see that it creates 10 full-time jobs for American workers.

The Regional Center Pilot Project, which is almost two decades old, has reinvigorated the investor visa program. Investment through a regional center is especially attractive to potential investors because they are relieved of the responsibility of running a new business. They can also count indirect job creation towards the job creation requirement. Most investor visa petitions now involve regional centers.

It appears that investors may feel more confident about a regional center that is operated through a State or city government. In these hard economic times, many State and local governments have turned to regional centers as a method of generating economic growth.

The Association to Invest in the United States of America has estimated the regional center program has created or saved over 65,000 jobs in the U.S. and has led to the investment of over $3 billion in the U.S. economy.

S. 3245 also extends for 3 years a program that has successfully brought needed doctors to medically underserved areas in the U.S. This program was designed by Senator Kent Conrad. It allows foreign doctors who have been in the U.S. on exchange programs to stay at the conclusion of their residencies if they agree to practice medicine for at least 3 years in health professional shortage areas. This is a valuable provision, and I support its reauthorization.

Finally, S. 3245 extends the Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program. Under this program, 5,000 immigrant visas can be issued to nonminister individuals who have been members of the denomination and who have worked in the capacity for which they are applying for at least the 2 years immediately following the visa applications. Historically, the program has been plagued by fraud, but the Bush administration took steps to help prevent much of the fraud, and now many churches and religious organizations in the United States rely on these immigrant nonministers. I look forward to making statutory changes aimed at even more fraud prevention, and I support the program's extension.

Again, I want to thank Senator Leahy and Senator Grassley for their leadership on this bill. All four of these programs are important, and I urge my colleagues to support S. 3245.

I reserve the balance of my time.


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