The United States has more immigrants than any country in the world. There are nearly 40 million people living in the U.S. who were born in another country, accounting for the world’s one-fifth of the migrant population.
Since the first day of his administration, President Joseph Biden R. Jr. set forth an ambitious agenda with Vice President Kamala Harris to reshape the U.S. immigration system by committing to reverse harmful policies implemented by the Trump Administration and offering an outline of comprehensive immigration reform.
Concretely, President Biden’s first steps include plans to raise refugee admissions cap, preserve deportation relief for unlawful immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, halt the border wall construction, and expand legal immigration. He has also lifted the restrictions established early in the coronavirus pandemic that drastically decreased the number of visas issued to immigrants.
President Biden has started the following immigration changes since his administration begun:
1. Eight-Year Pathway for 11 million immigrants
On his first day in the office, the POTUS shared his biggest immigration proposal, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, that would allow more new immigrants to the country, while providing a pathway to legal status to roughly 11 million immigrants in the U.S.
The bill calls for $4 billion over four years “to confront corruption, enhance security and foster prosperity” in migrant communities. It lays out a plan to create refugee processing in Central America to discourage migrants from trying to travel to the U.S.-Mexican border.
2. Preserve and fortify DACA program for Dreamers
Another positive gesture of the Biden administration is the reinforcement and fortification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) through a memorandum issued to the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security. The DACA (renounced by the Trump Administration) is legal protection against deportation and any anti-immigration measures specifically for at least 650,000 DACA recipients who came to the United States as children, and with good standing records.
3. Create opportunities to become citizen for Undocumented Foreign Nationals.
President Biden’s sweeping immigration reform strides toward the modernization of the immigration system. After passing background checks and paying taxes, undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. as of January 1, 2021, would be allowed to live and work in the country for five years. The reform also expedites Green Card applications for undocumented immigrants pursuing American citizenship. This includes, among others, improvement of the employment verification process and other work-related benefits.
4. Employment-Based and Family-Based Immigration Reform
The new administration’s immigration reform will also eliminate employment-based backlog within 10 years through its provisions. The reform bill would no longer count spouses and children toward the annual limit, which would also increase the annual number of employment-based Green Cards. The bill will also increase the annual limit for family-sponsored immigrants and will allow unused numbers from the family sponsorships to be used for employment-based categories. This means that as family backlogs get eliminated, the reduction in the employment-based backlogs will be reduced quickly as well.
The reform is seeking to lift the limits and other stringent requirements for employment-based visas. The new administration is broadening the definition of the specialty occupation in the H-1B category to account for today’s modern economy and employment marketplace. The bill will also incentivize higher wages for H‑1B workers so as not to displace U.S. workers and encourage ways to improve the employment verification process.
5. Removing the word “alien” from any U.S. immigration law and replacing it with the term “noncitizen”.
President Joe Biden also seeks to replace the term “alien” from U.S. immigration laws with “noncitizen”. Although the proposals have been made before across the country such as New York City, California, and Colorado, this is perceived as a sincere gesture to make laws humanizing for the people living and working in the U.S.
6. Increasing from 55,000 to 80,000 Green Cards available under the Diversity Lottery Visa Program.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 by the Biden Administration will also significantly expand the Diversity Visa Lottery from 55,000 to 80,000 Green Cards annually. Commonly known as the Green Card Lottery, the Diversity Visa Program is a Department of State program that provides 55,000 visas to countries with low immigration rates to the United States. Persons from Afghanistan, Brunei, Botswana, Germany, Turkey, among many others are eligible for the 2021 Diversity Visa Lottery.
7. Immigration enforcement through the use of smart technology at the border and non-border
President Biden authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to craft a strategy to increase the use of smart technology and surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border. The stated goal of the smart technology strategy is to enhance “situational awareness” and counter transnational criminal networks along the southern border.
8. Funding an agency to help address the underlying cause of migration.
The bill also outlines President Biden’s long-term regional vision to manage migration from Central America. It will create new systems with improved resettlement and refugee program to allow participants to seek protection and resettlement to the U.S. or other partner countries. The U.S. Citizenship Act also addresses the root causes of the increasing immigrant numbers, particularly from Central America. It seeks to address the issues of violence, poverty, social instability, and government corruption and impunity, and climate change impacts that immigrants from this region had to endure.
President Biden has brought the most ambitious immigration legislation in decades, welcoming non-citizens and immigrants to the path of living out the American Dream.
Those that may get affected by the reform in the U.S. immigration policy and those who are looking for opportunities to work and live in the United States, should remain informed, vigilant, and make sure all their documents are in order.