On January 20, 2021, President Biden sent The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 (the Bill) to Congress for consideration. This legislation is considered groundbreaking and takes into consideration the last 25 years of efforts by Congress to update and change U.S. immigration law.
The Bill proposes to furnish a pathway to permanent residence for DREAMERS, the undocumented and those holding Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The Bill also proposes to significantly alter and change our immigration system, which has, to date, been based on a two-pronged approach based on family ties and employment opportunity, in addition to a diversity lottery program.
The Road to Citizenship for the Undocumented
The legislation proposes that certain undocumented individuals who have paid their taxes and passed criminal background checks be permitted to apply for temporary legal status in the United States. Five years later, these individuals would be eligible to apply for permanent residence (i.e., to become green card holders) immediately. Three years after that, these individuals would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The Bill stipulates that the eligibility requirements include that applicants be physically present in the United States as of January 1, 2021. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could, in its discretion, waive the physical presence requirement for those deported on or after January 20, 2017, if they were physically present in the United States for at least three years prior to removal in the interest of family unity or for other humanitarian reasons.
Family-Based Immigration Reform Proposal
To address delays in cases for non-immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, the Bill would permit beneficiaries of approved I-130 immigrant petitions to enter the United States in temporary status while awaiting the Visa Bulletin to update with current priority dates on the visa waitlist. The Bill also proposes that per-country caps be increased and that past unused immigrant visas would be recaptured, thus reducing lengthy wait times.
Discrimination Against LGBTQ Families and Other Categories of Non-Immigrants
The Bill proposes to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ families. It also proposes to protect orphans, widows and the Filipino war veterans who fought with the United States and its allies in World War II. Other changes include eliminating the three and ten year bars of unlawful presence. This would be necessary to facilitate applications for residence for those who previously overstayed their visas.
Diversity Lottery Program
The Bill proposes increasing the number of green cards in the diversity lottery program from 55,000 to 80,000 per year.
Promotion of Immigrant and Refugee Integration and Citizenship
New funding to state and local governments has been proposed to expand programs to promote integration and inclusion, increasing English language instruction and providing assistance to permanent residents seeking U.S. citizenship.
Expediting Delays at U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services and Other Proposals to Overhaul Legal Immigration
The Bill proposes to clear employment-based immigrant visa backlogs, recapture unused immigrant visas, reduce lengthy wait times and eliminate per-country caps. The Bill further makes it easier for foreign nationals graduating in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to stay in the United States. It proposes a path to furnish dependents of H-1B visa holders with employment authorization and would prevent children from “aging out” of the system. Further, the Bill creates a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development, permitting DHS to use discretion in adjusting the issuance of green cards based on macroeconomic conditions to incentivize higher wages for non-immigrant, highly-skilled visas to avoid unfair competition with American workers.
The Bill addresses supplementing existing border resources with technology and infrastructure to expedite screening and enhance the ability to identify narcotics and other contraband at land, air and sea ports of entry. It calls for the introduction of new scanning technologies to expand the ability to detect illicit activity, evaluate the effectiveness of border security as well as to crack down on illicit drugs and criminal organizations. Working in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, DHS and the U.S. Secretary of State, the Bill’s objective is to improve and expend on targeting and imposing sanctions against foreign narcotics traffickers, their organizations and networks.
Asylum Applicants and Other Vulnerable Populations
The Bill proposes to remove the one-year deadline for filing applications for asylum and provides additional funds to reduce asylum application backlogs. The Bill further includes provision for protecting those on U and T visas (victims of criminal activity/victims of human trafficking) and increases the U visas from 10,000 to 30,000 applicants. Violence Against Women Act applicants will also benefit from additional protections in the Bill.
There are various other provisions in the Bill affecting immigration courts and proposals to increase assistance to South American countries to combat poverty, corruption and violence.
We will keep our readers advised of any significant developments as the Bill winds its way through Congress.