Roundup of Biden’s Immigration Policies
By: Rachel Horner
President Biden has set the tone for his stance on immigration with a recent press release regarding his plan to transform the U.S. immigration system. The press release is essentially a fact sheet of Biden’s proposed “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” and was published online by the White House. It lists several different facets of immigration the Biden Administration looks to reform and the specific ways in which they will do so.
Changes in Priority, Process
For measures regarding employment-based visas, the specific plans for reform are kept under the section “growing the economy” — an already drastic shift in language from the Trump Administration, which often used language suggesting H-1Bs hurt the economy.
The bill states that, for one, Biden wants to clear employment-based visa backlogs and reduce lengthy wait times, which is a huge issue USCIS faces right now. Biden proposes erasing per-country visa caps, which is in direct contrast to the current USCIS bulletin model (largely structured around different countries and their caps) and would drastically change the system for foreign nationals in countries with high immigration rates, like India and China. His bill further states that PhD holders should be exempt from any cap due to the advanced research backgrounds each of those candidates would have gained in the course of their studies, thereby suggesting a greater appreciation for highly educated and skilled immigrant workers that was lacking under the previous administration.
The bill will also provide dependents of those on H-1Bs with work authorization and ensure their children do not “age out” of the system.
Additionally, Biden’s proposal includes a “pilot program,” which would give DHS the authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivize higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition with American workers. To this end, the bill references a new visa category that would allow for a higher volume of skilled foreign workers in areas that are in the greatest need of economic growth.
Lastly, 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.
Green Card Reform
It’s also important to note the bill proposes a plan for those currently holding DACA to immediately apply for green cards. For those who have their green cards, those who qualify could apply for citizenship after three years. Also important is that the bill proposes a plan for undocumented foreign individuals who were physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021 to be able to immediately apply for temporary legal status. After five years in temporary status, they would become eligible to apply for permanent residence, granted they have passed security checks and paid U.S. taxes.
In addition, the Bill also provides measures in which they will target undocumented immigration, DACA, religion-based discrimination, those in asylum, family-based immigration, and more.
Undoing Trump-Era Damage
Regarding last-minute decisions made by the Trump Administration, especially pertaining to the H-1B program, Biden has chosen to place a freeze on administrative decisions made by Trump. This would directly affect decisions such as the “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program” — DHS will not be able to move forward with redefining specialty occupation, increasing the wage level percentiles, and revising employer-employee relations. However, because the H-1B wage selection rule has been published in the federal register, the most likely option as of right now is that it will only be delayed as it is subject to a further waiting period, not completely frozen. However, this is welcome news for IT consultancies and immigration attorneys alike.