Dream and Promise Act sends clear message: middle skills are a pathway to citizenship

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, March 26, 2019

New legislation recognizes importance of middle-skill pathways and immigrant workforce to our growing economy

Legislation recently introduced in Congress marks a significant step toward recognizing the role that immigrant workers play in the US economy, and the vital importance of middle-skill jobs. The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 would provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, and ensure a stable future for adult immigrants who have been living and working under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The bill would also allow more immigrants to access federal student financial aid.

The new bill reflects National Skills Coalition’s longstanding advocacy for a middle-skills pathway for immigrant Dreamers and sends an important message: the American economy depends on working people and immigrants with middle-skill credentials, not just those with college degrees. This provision has broad-based support; in February, nearly 500 NSC members representing education, workforce, business, and other stakeholders came to Washington to advocate for the proposal in Congress as part of our Skills for Good Jobs 2019 agenda.

The broader American public also embraces the idea of having a variety of pathways to good jobs: A recent NSC poll shows overwhelming support for investments in skills, with more than 80 percent of voters endorsing policies that allow workers to pursue technical training, apprenticeships, shorter-term credentials, and other skill-building opportunities.

Because immigrants comprise approximately 1 in 6 American workers, or roughly 28 million adults in the US labor force, it is important for federal skills policies to address their specific assets and barriers. The Dream and Promise Act would address barriers faced by a key subset of immigrant workers, totaling an estimated 2.7 million people.

More about the legislation

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 was announced at a March 12 press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) along with lead sponsors Representatives Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). More than 200 Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill.

The legislation, formally known as H.R. 6, would provide a way for two groups of immigrants to obtain permanent legal status and eventual US citizenship: Those who currently have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers. Neither group is generally eligible for permanent status under current immigration laws, unless they meet existing criteria for adjustment of status. There are currently 2.3 million Dreamers in the U.S. (which includes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients) and 300,000 people with TPS status.

How do middle skill credentials fit into the bill?

The requirements for Dreamers to attain permanent legal status under this bill are different from the requirements for TPS holders, primarily because the TPS holders are more likely to be adults who have been in the labor force for more than a decade.

Under the proposed legislation, Dreamers would need to meet a host of requirements at each stage of this process:

  • Step 1: Apply for an initial conditional permanent resident status. Dreamers would need to show that they have earned a high school diploma or equivalent; or attained a recognized postsecondary credential as defined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); or be currently enrolled in an education program that will allow them to earn a high school diploma or equivalent, certificate or credential from an area career and technical education (CTE) secondary school, or a recognized postsecondary credential.
  • Step 2: Apply for removal of the “conditional” part of their status to move into full legal permanent resident (LPR) status. Dreamers would need to demonstrate that they had achieved one of three milestones related to educational attainment, work experience, or military service. For the educational attainment track, Dreamers would need to show that they had earned a degree from a postsecondary institution (including vocational and proprietary schools), or completed 2 years towards a bachelor’s degree, or earned a certificate or credential from an area postsecondary CTE school.
  • Step 3: Follow already-established legal pathways to adjust from LPR status to full US citizenship.

As noted above, the middle skills pathway included in Step 2 reflects a longstanding NSC policy recommendation. Earlier versions of the DREAM Act, which has been introduced in Congress repeatedly over the past two decades, also included the pathway.

How would the bill support upskilling?

The legislation would allow Dreamers with conditional permanent resident status to become eligible for federal student financial aid. Currently, a person must have full LPR status in order to access such aid. In addition, the bill would repeal a 1996 provision that punishes states for allowing undocumented individuals to pay in-state tuition rates. More than 20 states have implemented such “tuition equity” policies.

Finally, the legislation would authorize US Citizenship and Immigration Services to implement a competitive grant program for nonprofits that can aid individuals in meeting the requirements of the bill. Organizations would be permitted to use funding for English language classes, preparation for high school equivalency exams, and other purposes. The legislation does not specify a dollar amount for these grants, but would authorize funding for a 10-year period following passage of the legislation.

Next steps in Congress: What advocates can do

The newly introduced legislation is expected to proceed through regular order in Congress. That means that the committee overseeing the bill – the House Judiciary Committee – will schedule a markup later this spring.

It is anticipated that the full House of Representatives will vote on the bill later this year, though its prospects in the Senate are very uncertain. Skills advocates can use this time to educate their Members of Congress about the demand for middle skill workers in each state and the role that Dreamers and TPS holders can play in meeting that demand.