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President Biden Plans to Send Immigration Reform Bill to Congress

On his first day in office, President Biden announced the highlights of a far-reaching plan to reform the U.S. immigration system. The anticipated bill is expected to feature a path to permanent residence and citizenship for qualifying undocumented foreign nationals and those holding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and H-2A status; mechanisms to clear extensive green card backlogs in the employment-based and family-based programs; a streamlined process for graduates of U.S. university with advanced STEM degrees to obtain permanent residence; and an increase in Diversity Lottery Visas, among other provisions. 

The full text of the legislation has not yet been made public. The White House has released a fact sheet providing an overview of its provisions, a summary of which follows:

Pathway to permanent residence and citizenship

  • In contrast to the Trump Administration, which has taken steps to end DACA and limit the use of TPS, the Biden legislation is expected to provide a path for foreign nationals currently holding DACA, TPS or H-2A status to apply for permanent residence if they were physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. After receiving their green cards, qualifying foreign nationals could apply for citizenship after three years, provided that they meet security and background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics. 
  • Undocumented foreign nationals who were physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021 would be able to apply for temporary legal status. After five years in temporary status, they would become eligible to apply for permanent residence if they have passed certain security and criminal checks and paid U.S. taxes. These foreign nationals could then apply for citizenship after three additional years, provided that they pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics. Special provisions are also included for certain individuals who were removed during the Trump Administration, but were physically present for at least three years prior to their removal. 

Employment-based immigration reforms

  • The bill is expected to include provisions to clear employment-based immigrant visa backlogs, recapture unused visas, reduce lengthy permanent residence wait times and eliminate per-country immigrant visa caps. It is anticipated that these goals would be achieved in part by exempting spouses and children of green-card holders from the annual green card quota as well as Ph.D.  graduates working in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
  • Though an increase to the H-1B numerical limit is not expected to be included in the legislation, the bill does include the codification of H-4 employment authorization for spouses of H-1B workers, though the extent of this provision is not yet known.
  • The bill would also create a pilot program that would stimulate regional economic development, give DHS the authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivize higher wages for nonimmigrant, high-skilled visas.
  • The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor would be required to make recommendations for improving the employment eligibility verification process and providing protections to foreign workers affected by labor violations.

Family-based immigration reforms

  • Family-based immigrant visa backlogs would be cleared through the recapture of unused visas from prior years and the increase in per-country visa caps.
  • A process would be put in place that would allow foreign nationals with approved family-sponsored petitions to join family members in the United States while their green card applications are pending.
  • Immigration laws would be revised to explicitly allow LGBTQ+ petitioners to sponsor family members. 

Other provisions

  • The annual number of green cards available under the Diversity Lottery Visa Program would increase from 55,000 to 80,000.
  • The three- and ten-year bars, for individuals who have been unlawfully present in the United States, would be eliminated. 
  • The president would be barred from discriminating based on religion in issuing immigration bans.
  • Immigration enforcement would be enhanced through smart technologies. 
  • Funding would be allocated for an inter-agency plan that would address the underlying causes of migration in the Central American region, including an increase in assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, conditioned on their ability to reduce the corruption, violence and poverty that causes their citizens to flee. 
  • Humanitarian program reforms would be implemented, including an elimination of the one-year deadline for filing an asylum claim and an increase in the U visa cap from 10,000 to 30,000. 

What’s next for the proposal

The forthcoming bill will need to be introduced into Congress where it must pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to become law. It is likely to face significant debate and amendments. The plan’s prospects for approval are currently unclear.

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