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Waiting for comprehensive immigration reform? Some things to consider now.

obama.jpgA bipartisan group of eight Senators recently presented this outline for comprehensive immigration reform. In a separate speech, the President voiced his support for comprehensive reform, and detailed a similar plan, while House leaders have reportedly also been working on a bill.

Given all of this support, excitement is understandably growing that comprehensive immigration reform may soon be a reality. While there is no new law yet, here are some suggestions people who may be interested in applying for comprehensive immigration benefits should consider now.

1. There is no new law yet, and there may not be one.

Given the understandable excitement for the prospect of immigration reform, it's crucial to keep in mind that there is nothing new yet. Foreign nationals should not be fooled by anyone trying to get them to file for a new program right now. At other periods when there were similar hopes for comprehensive reform, some document preparation services (often known as "notarios") defrauded foreign nationals by claiming they would file for them- even though the program did not exist yet.

Also, while many people- myself included- are optimistic there will be comprehensive reform soon, there is certainly no guarantee. Past efforts for similar reform have been proposed and failed. Therefore, do not make any firm plans assuming there will be a new law.

2. Be patient.

Remember, the proposed bills cover many different immigration issues in addition to legalizing people who are undocumented such as student visas, employment verification, visa backlogs, and border security. These issues will likely be the subject of intense negotiation, and may take several months to resolve.

Also, the proposed laws would require very large changes to the government agencies which handle immigration. For example, most plans call for all 10-11 million people who are here illegally to register and undergo background checks, which is would be a huge undertaking. Also, proposals include new or enhanced programs such as entry/exit systems, and increases in border and employer verification programs, which will also require time to implement.

Finally, most plans calls for people who are undocumented to receive a temporary status, which cannot convert to regular permanent residency until immigrant visa backlogs are cleared.  Some people who began the residency process over twenty years ago are still waiting, while the backlog for people starting now may be much worst.  While most reform proposals also include ways to shorten this backlog, it will likely be quite awhile before temporary residents are able to get true permanent residency.

3. Pay taxes.

First, the law requires taxes to be paid on all income, even if it is earned through unauthorized employment. Therefore, even without immigration reform, undocumented foreign nationals are required to pay taxes. People who are not eligible for a social security number can still pay taxes through what is called an "Individual Taxpayer Identification Number" or "ITIN".

It is especially important to pay taxes now, however. Most versions of comprehensive immigration reform which have been proposed require applicants to not only pay taxes now, but to have done so in prior years. Those who did not pay taxes previously can still arrange to file returns late through paying "back taxes".

On top of this, the procedures for obtaining an ITIN have become more difficult and time-consuming. If there is comprehensive immigration reform, it is quite likely that there will be many new ITIN applications. Given the new procedures, and the likely increase in people seeking ITINs, applying for an ITIN may become even more difficult and time-consuming than it is has been previously. Therefore, it is a good idea to resolve tax issues as soon as possible.

4. Hold onto paperwork.

Any version of comprehensive immigration reform will likely require applicants to prove they have been here a certain number of years. Therefore, would-be applicants should hold on to any paperwork which shows they were in the United States. Things like bills, receipts, medical records, and education transcripts can all be very useful to demonstrate presence.

Also, if there is a new law, applicants will likely need to show they were here the day that the law was passed. Therefore, it is especially important to hold onto recent documents if a new law is passed. If a new law passed, would-be applicants should consider doing something to make sure they were here that day- make a bank withdrawal, perhaps send a remittance home (and get a receipt), or something similar.

5. Educate yourself

As in past years, there is likely going to be a lot of fraud and misinformation about any new law. Therefore, before filing anything, it is important to follow reliable news sources and experts in immigration law who you can trust.

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