What You Should Know About President Biden's Immigration Reform Bill

Immigration Bill

President Biden announced the highlights of a 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.

A clear pathway to permanent residence and US citizenship

The Biden legislation is expected to provide a path for foreign nationals currently holding DACA, TPS or H-2A status to immediately 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 immediately 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.

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.

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. The bill includes the codification of H-4 employment authorization for spouses of H-1B workers.

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.

Other provisions in the Bill includes an increase in the annual number of green cards available under the Diversity Lottery Visa Program 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. This would eliminate the need to request for provisional waiver of the unlawful presence specially for those who were not inspected when they entered the US or those who entered as a crew member.

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.

Many of these provisions may change as the bill works its way through congress. However with the Democrats in control of Congress, the future of immigration in the US looks brighter under the new Biden administration.

Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article does create any attorney client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C. This article is not a solicitation.

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes was President of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive former CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, APLC is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 747, Los Angeles, CA, 90010.

Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail kenneth@kenreyeslaw.com. Visit us at kenreyeslaw.com