President Barack Obama outlined steps Nov. 20 that would revamp the nation’s “broken immigration system” by allowing undocumented immigrants to play by the rules and gain work authorization – potentially changing the rules for benefit managers.

For public and private employers, Obama explained that his new proposal will help expand work authorization for high-skilled workers that are awaiting their green card. It will also allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, who have lived in the U.S. for more than five years, to “temporarily stay in the U.S.” by passing a background check and paying taxes.

It is unclear if benefit and operating costs will rise for employers as a result of any new immigration laws, says Denyse Sabagh, head of Duane Morris’ immigration practice group. She predicts a revamped system will ultimately help employers in the battle for talent.

“It’s a good thing for competition,” she says. “Some people who are not good-faith employers are paying lower wages because they know they can exploit undocumented workers.”

See also: Immigration reform needed to avoid ‘H-1B casualties,’ negative business impacts

The President acknowledged that “business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less,” while noting he will “make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.”

Currently, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's workforce enforcement division investigates employers who use unauthorized workers as a part of their business model or who mistreat workers. Of the more than 452 criminal arrests made in 2013, nearly 40% were owners, managers or HR employees who faced charges of “harboring or knowingly hiring illegal aliens,” the agency says.

Prior proposals suggested opening employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses, which, some believe, would make the country “more competitive with other countries -- to allow the spouses of professionals to be able to work, because right now they’re not,” explains Sabagh.

See also: Immigration reform offers opportunities for HR

In 2013, Senate bill 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, passed the Senate. But there has been no movement on the bill, which mirrors some of the major plans outlined by the President. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell noted yesterday that Obama’s action “would ignore the law, would reject the voice of the voters, and would impose new unfairness on law-abiding immigrants.”

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit News becomes archived within a week of it being published

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access