Rubio, appearing on several Sunday news shows, discounted the notion immigration reform would be a free amnesty that would enable undocumented immigrants to tap into social services and get a free ride to citizenship.
"All people will get is the opportunity to apply ... for legal status, which isn't awarded on day one," Rubio said on ABC's "This Week." "There's a process for that. You have to pay an application fee, and a fine. And you're going to have to stay in that status while you pay taxes and prove that you are not a public charge."
Immigration reform has been a delicate issue for the Republicans, whose base is largely hostile to illegal immigration on the grounds it attracts vast numbers of unskilled workers who benefit from social programs. Despite the highly sensitive nature of the issue, Rubio said on "Meet the Press," he "avoided making the political calculus on this issue."
Rubio said on "Fox News Sunday" the legislative proposal being developed is intended to prevent a rush of immigrants and included provisions for strict security along the Mexican border.
"I think that's where people are misunderstanding," he said. "They don't get anything. What they get is the opportunity to apply for it. They still have to qualify for it."
While details of the plan have not been formally released, Rubio said on CNN's "State of the Nation" undocumented people would have to wait at least a decade before they could apply for permanent status, and will have to pay a fine and an application fee.
Citing immigration reform under the Reagan administration -- when millions of undocumented workers rushed the border with the hope they would be granted American citizenship -- Rubio said the immigration reforms this time are dependent on first securing the border.
"In essence, for those who are undocumented in this country, not only they'll have to wait 10 years, more than 10 years, but they will have to wait until [border security is] fully implemented," he said. "If they're not fully implemented, there will be no green cards awarded. And we think that will be incentive."