03.25.10

Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Leahy-Sponsored Bills To Assist Refugees

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday advanced two pieces of legislation sponsored by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).  The Refugee Opportunity Act and the Return Of Talent Act will help continue long-held U.S. policy of rewarding refugees who help the country, and refugees who help those in need beyond the country’s borders.

The Refugee Opportunity Act will create an exception to the physical presence requirement for refugees who, during their first year in the United States, accept employment overseas with the armed services or with a federal agency to further U.S. policy.  The Return of Talent Act will permit lawful permanent residents to return for a period of time to their country of nationality to assist in recovery efforts following a natural disaster or armed conflict without counting that time against them for purposes of citizenship. 

“Congress has spoken strongly through legislation about the importance of helping those foreign nationals who have in turn helped us.  These two bills sustain the policy of rewarding those who help us, and who help those in need beyond our borders.  I am also grateful for Senator Lugar’s partnership on both of these bipartisan bills.”

The Refugee Opportunity Act will assist refugees in the process of building a new life by expanding employment opportunities, and it will allow the federal government to benefit from refugees’ language and other skills.  The Refugee Opportunity Act is also cosponsored by Judiciary Committee members Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

The Return of Talent Act would allow an legal permanent residents to work abroad and not have that break in continuous presence in the U.S. affect his or her application later for naturalization, provided that this work is related to post-conflict or natural disaster reconstruction activities run by the U.S. or United Nations.  Feingold is also a cosponsor of the Return of Talent Act.

Leahy and Lugar have been supporters of providing assistance where appropriate to foreign nationals who have made sacrifices to assist the United States in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   The Refugee Opportunity Act was introduced on January, and the Return of Talent Act was introduced in February.  Earlier this month, Leahy introduced the Refugee Protection Act, which will help improve protections for refugees and asylum seekers with bona fide claims.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Reporting The Refugee Opportunity Act And The Return Of Talent Act
March 25, 2010

I thank all Senators for helping us advance the Refugee Opportunity Act and the Return of Talent Act. We worked constructively over the last two weeks to incorporate ideas and address concerns related to both of these bills, and I appreciate the cooperation and input from Members of the Committee.  I am also grateful for Senator Lugar’s partnership on both of these bipartisan bills. 

When enacted, the Refugee Opportunity Act will create an exception to the physical presence requirement for refugees who, during their first year in the United States, accept employment overseas with the Armed Services or with a Federal agency to further U.S. policy.  This legislation will assist refugees in the process of building a new life by expanding employment opportunities, and it will allow the Federal Government to benefit from refugees’ language and other skills. 

The Return of Talent Act will permit lawful permanent residents to return for a period of time to their country of nationality to assist in recovery efforts following a natural disaster or armed conflict without counting that time against them for purposes of citizenship.  This bill is especially timely given the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and I am glad we have worked together to promote a policy that encourages those on the path to United States citizenship to engage in such meaningful work. 

During today’s executive business meeting, Senator Durbin offered an amendment to the Return of Talent Act to encourage medical professionals who are lawful permanent residents to volunteer their skills in countries that have critical needs.  This amendment was adopted and will enhance the core purpose of Senator Lugar’s legislation. 

Senator Sessions offered an amendment to the Return of Talent Act intended to ensure that the benefits conferred by the Return of Talent Act are not abused.  This amendment was adopted as well, and furthers our efforts to act on a bipartisan basis on important legislation. 

Congress has spoken strongly through legislation about the importance of helping those foreign nationals who have in turn helped us.  Congress recently acted on behalf of Iraqi citizens who, at great personal risk, assisted the United States military in Iraq with translation and other services by enacting a special immigrant visa for certain Iraqi citizens who sought to leave Iraq.  And Congress has acted to make the path to citizenship for lawful permanent residents serving in our military as efficient as possible, understanding that few other commitments exemplify devotion to one’s adoptive country than serving to protect it. 

These two bills sustain the policy of rewarding those who help us, and who help those in need beyond our borders.  And in this spirit, they encourage the same selflessness and sacrifice in refugees and lawful permanent residents that we see every day in aspiring new Americans who serve their communities or who serve the United States in our military.  I thank all Senators who supported these bills and assisted in moving them to the Senate floor.  I hope they will be enacted promptly.

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