The gang of eight senators working on comprehensive immigration reform have announced that they are almost finished with their work on the Senate’s legislative package and expect to introduce a comprehensive overhaul bill on April 16. Legalizing the status of the 11 million undocumented foreign nationals currently in the United States will be a centerpiece of the proposal. Also to be included are measures to eliminate, over 10 years, a backlog of some 4.7 million immigrants who are waiting for their green cards; eliminating siblings of U.S. citizens as a category of foreigners who are eligible for green cards; and removing the annual limitations on the number of green cards for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents (LPRs). The proposal is also reported to create, at the end of 10 years, a program offering 138,000 merit-based visas each year to foreigners based on their work skills, but also on other considerations including family ties. Permanent residency will be offered to workers in three categories: high-skilled foreigners in technology and science, employees with a middle range of white-collar skills, and low-wage workers. Farm workers are not included, as they will come under a separate program. Until the bill is introduced, these provisions can and may be changed as the Senate working group finishes its drafting.

After the bill is introduced, supporters will undertake a very public “sales” campaign as the bill moves through the normal legislative process. Proponents of immigration reform must hold together an uncommon coalition of labor, business, conservatives, and liberals. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the immigration reform after the full Senate has debated the bill; it is not expected to introduce its own legislation.

More details are likely to emerge over the next few days.