Business Models

Offering fee-based services for those who can afford it, in order to generate income to support free ESL/literacy services for those who can’t, makes a lot of sense—especially contracts with other organizations and businesses for custom-designed services. This  isn’t a new idea, but it’s probably something more organizations that provide community-based literacy instruction ought to be looking at. I just can’t see a scenario in the near future in which government funding (federal, state, or local) for adult literacy or ESL is likely to substantially increase, and growth in foundation and charitable giving in general  is likely to continue to be pretty flat. At the same time, immigration reform appears to have at least a reasonable chance of passage in the near future, and if it does, that will  likely  open up even more opportunities for fee-based English language instruction and translation services.

Outline of Senate Immigration Reform Bill

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has posted a 17-page outline of the Senate Immigration reform bill, which apparently will be called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.”

The outline does not provide much clarification regarding the English language requirement discussed in the principles statement released by the “Gang of Eight” Senators last January. In that document, they listed learning English and civics as one of the requirements that undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. would need to meet in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. The section in the bill outline on “Legalization and Legal Immigration” reaffirms this requirement (see second to last paragraph below) without providing any additional details:

Legalization and Legal Immigration

I. Adjustment of Status to Registered Provisional Immigrant Status

  • Individuals in unlawful status may apply to adjust their status to the legal status of Registered Provisional Immigrant Status.
  • Eligibility Criteria:
    • Residence in the United States prior to December 31, 2011 and maintenance of 
continuous physical presence since then.
    • Paid a $500 penalty fee (except for DREAM Act eligible students), and assessed taxes, per adult applicant in addition to all applicable fees required to pay for the cost of processing the application.
    • Ineligible if:
      • Convicted of an aggravated felony;
      • Convicted of a felony;
      • Convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors;
      • Convicted of an offense under foreign law;
      • Unlawfully Voted; and
      • Inadmissible for Criminal, National Security, Public Health, or other morality grounds.
  • Spouses and children of people in RPI status can be petitioned for as derivatives of the principal applicant (but must be in the United States at the time).
  • Immigrants in RPI status can work for any employer and travel outside of the United States
  • Individuals outside of the United States who were previously here before December 31, 2011 and were deported for non-criminal reasons can apply to re-enter the United States in RPI status if they are the spouse, of or parent of a child who is, United States citizen or lawful permanent resident; or are a childhood arrival who is eligible for the DREAM Act.
  • The Application period will be for 1 year with the possibility of extension by the Secretary for an additional 1 year.
  • Individuals with removal orders will be permitted to apply as will aliens currently in removal proceedings.
  • RPI status shall last for a 6-year term that is renewable if the immigrant does not commit any acts that would render the alien deportable. Another $500 penalty fee is applicable at this time.
  • The Secretary may collect a processing fee from individuals who register for RPI status in an amount that is sufficient to recover all of the costs of implementing the registration program.
  • An individual who has been granted RPI status is not eligible for any Federal means-tested public benefit (as such term is defined in section 403 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (8 U.S.C. 1613)).
  • A noncitizen granted registered provisional immigrant status under this section shall be considered lawfully present in the United States for all purposes, while such noncitizen remains in such status, except that the noncitizen
    • is not entitled to the premium assistance tax credit authorized under section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986; and
    • shall be subject to the rules applicable to individuals not lawfully present that are set forth in section 1402(e) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 18071).
  • After 10 years, aliens in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status through the same Merit Based System everyone else must use to earn a green card (described below) if the following things have occurred:
    • The alien maintained continuous physical presence
    • They paid all taxes owed during the period that they are in status as an RPI
    • They worked in the United States regularly;
    • And demonstrated knowledge of Civics and English (my emphasis)
    • All people currently waiting for family and employment green cards as of the date of enactment have had their priority date become current.
    • A $1,000 penalty fee is rendered
  • People in DREAM Act Status and the Agricultural Program can get their green cards in 5 years and DREAM Act kids will be eligible for citizenship immediately after they get their green cards.

Source: American Immigration lawyers Association

New Data Shows 3% Growth in the Number of Limited English Proficient (LEP) Individuals in the U.S. Over the Last 20 Years

The Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy just released new, national, state-, and county-level data on the number, share, and linguistic diversity of Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals in the United States.

According to MPI, 25.2 million individuals over the age of 5 in the United States (9% of the total population) have limited proficiency in English, compared with 14 million (6% of the total population) in 1990. Needles to say, this is good supporting data for those trying to make the case that more ESOL resources are needed for children, youth, and adults in the U.S.

Two Basic Principles for Immigration Reform and Learning English

All indications are that the immigration reform legislation currently being drafted in the Senate is going to provide undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. with the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency—but with a much more arduous set of requirements than are required by normal green card applicants. Adult education groups are particularly interested in the English language requirement (which I discussed here).

Having now had a chance to think about this for a few weeks, my thoughts on this requirement come down to two basic principles:

  1. A requirement to learn English in order to qualify for lawful permanent resident status shouldn’t penalize or place an unrealistic burden on those with significant learning challenges.
  2. Any requirement to learn English in order to qualify for lawful permanent resident status should address the increased demand for English instruction that would emerge as a result, in a way that leverages the success of adult education programs that already provide these services.

The first has to do with basic fairness and ensuring equal opportunity. A requirement to learn English in order to qualify for lawful permanent resident status shouldn’t penalize or place an unrealistic burden on those who have special learning challenges, such as:

  • Those with limited education or literacy skills in their native language.
  • Those who are caregivers of children and therefore may have more limited opportunities to attend English classes. Lack of childcare services is already a significant barrier that prevents many people from attending adult education classes—particularly women.
  • Those who are elderly or disabled. For citizenship, those who are over a certain age and/or who have a disability may be granted an exemption from completing the English and civics tests. Similar kinds of considerations should be made for undocumented immigrants applying for the permanent resident status who are elderly/disabled.

It seems to me that consideration should be given to scrapping English proficiency altogether as a requirement and using satisfactory completion of some form of legitimate English language instruction over a certain period of time as sufficient to qualify. This would eliminate the problem of having to figure out what level of proficiency is going to count as sufficient, and it would largely (although not entirely) address the problem that the elderly/disabled may struggle to gain proficiency easily or quickly. One would still have to know English at certain level of proficiency to become a citizen (other than those who would be granted exceptions anyway).

The second basic principle is that any requirement to learn English in order to qualify for lawful permanent resident status should address the increased demand for low-cost English instruction that’s going to explode as a result, and in a way that leverages the success of adult education programs that already provide these services for free or at a limited cost. (I’m thinking here primarily of the adult English language and literacy programs funded at least in part by federal/state dollars—but also the privately funded nonprofits that are also key adult education providers in many communities.)

  • While the current capacity of these programs may not be sufficient to meet new demand, it will be cheaper to leverage the existing capacity than to create new entities to provide this instruction.
  • Moreover, this existing adult education system already has a track record of success in providing individuals with the English skills needed to successfully enter employment, improve their employment prospects, enroll in job training or in postsecondary education. The adult education system also has a track record in many states of providing adults with the opportunity to co-enroll in English language instruction while obtaining technical skills.
  • Similarly, it doesn’t make sense for the English language requirement to establish its own measure(s) for English proficiency that does not align with those measures already in use by the adult education system in local communities.

Finally, while it’s probably not realistic to expect a big increase in federal expenditures for these programs to be included in this bill, we ought to at least strengthen what we have. Let’s encourage professional and private sector investment in expanded adult English language instruction. One way to do this would be to provide tax credits for businesses that partner with adult education programs to provide English instruction for their employees (or residents of the community)—a variation of an idea was included in the Menendez/Leahy immigration reform bill in 2010.

In addition, I can’t think of a good reason why this legislation shouldn’t include the authorization of the EL/Civics grant program under Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). (WIA is the primary vehicle for federal investment in adult education in the U.S.) EL/Civics isn’t actually authorized by WIA but is a set-aside that has to be approved by Congressional appropriators every year. The lack of authorization leaves the program more vulnerable to elimination than other programs under WIA, at a time when we can least afford for that to happen.