This article was prepared with the assistance of ABIL, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, of which Loan Huynh, Fredrikson Immigration Department Chair, is a member.
The Biden administration and Democratic sponsors in the Senate and House of Representatives have put forth a sweeping new immigration reform bill, the 353-page "U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021." The bill states its purpose as providing an earned path to citizenship, addressing the root causes of migration, responsibly managing the southern border, reforming the immigrant visa system, and other goals. The bill does not emphasize enforcement.
The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by striking the term "alien" and replacing it with "noncitizen." The term "alien" has been in use for centuries, but some find it demeaning. According to reports, Tracy Renaud, who is serving as acting director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recently sent a memorandum to agency staff encouraging them to avoid use of the terms "alien" and "illegal alien" and instead to use "more inclusive language in the agency's outreach efforts, internal documents and in overall communication with stakeholders, partners and the general public," including "noncitizen" and "undocumented noncitizen" or "undocumented individual."
It is likely that the bill will not pass intact, but smaller targeted pieces could be moved forward and supported separately. Another avenue being suggested for implementation is via the budget reconciliation process.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of selected highlights of the proposed legislation. The bill would:
- Establish an "earned path to citizenship" for "eligible entrants" (and their spouses and children) that provides for an initial period of authorized admission as a "lawful prospective immigrant," valid for six years and extendable. Qualifying individuals would also receive a work permit and travel authorization. A lawful prospective immigrant could become eligible for permanent residence after at least five years of prospective status. Prospective applicants would need to have been in the United States before 2021.
- Raise to 170,000 (from 140,000) the annual number of employment-based immigrants, and add unused employment-based green cards to the maximum. (Derivatives of employment-based immigrants will not count against numerical caps.)
- Provide permanent residence, without numerical limits, to international students with PhDs in science, technology, engineering and math fields from U.S. universities.
- Provide for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status for noncitizens who entered the United States as children (e.g., "Dreamers" under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program).
- Provide permanent residence to those who have had an approved immigrant petition for 10 years.
- Provide for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status for agricultural workers who have performed agricultural labor or services during the immediately preceding five-year period for at least 2,300 hours or 400 workdays.
- Provide for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status for certain nationals of countries designated for temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure.
- Increase diversity green cards from 55,000 to 80,000 each year. (Derivatives of DV immigrants will not count against numerical caps.)
- Eliminate employment-based per-country levels.
- Increase immigrant visas for "other workers."
- Provide for the establishment of a procedure to temporarily limit admission of certain immigrants in geographic areas or labor market sectors that are experiencing high levels of unemployment.
- Establish a pilot program for up to five years to admit annually up to 10,000 "admissible immigrants whose employment is essential to the economic development strategies of the cities or counties in which they will live or work."
- Consider prioritizing nonimmigrant visas (including H-1B) based on the wages offered by employers.
- Allow work authorization for H-4 nonimmigrant spouses and children of H-1B nonimmigrants.
- Provide for expediting legitimate trade and travel at ports of entry.
- Authorize employment for asylum applicants who are not detained and whose applications have not been determined to be frivolous.
- Establish an employment authorization commission to make recommendations on policies to verify the eligibility of noncitizens for employment in the United States.
- Conduct a study on factors affecting employment opportunities for immigrants and refugees with professional credentials obtained in foreign countries.
The bill also includes provisions to address migration needs by strengthening regional humanitarian responses for refugees and asylum seekers in the Western Hemisphere and [strengthen] repatriation initiatives, promote "immigrant and refugee integration," address immigration court backlogs, and expand programs to address the "root causes of migration" and "responsibly [manage] the southern border."
- Text of House bill
- Text of Senate bill
- Siskind Summary
- "Joe Biden's Administration Orders Immigration Officials to Remove 'Alien' and 'Illegal Alien' From Official Communications and Use 'Noncitizen' Instead to Avoid 'Dehumanizing Language,'" Daily Mail, February 16, 2021
- "'Aliens' No More: Biden Administration Directs Immigration Officials To Use 'Inclusive Language,'" Forbes, February 16, 2021
- "New Bill Has Many Good But Two Bad Measures for Employment Immigrants," Forbes, February 19, 2021
- "Democrats Introduce an Immigration Overhaul Bill. Here's What Would Change," NBC News, February 18, 2021
- "Biden's Immigration Bill Lands on the Hill Facing Bleak Odds," Politico, February 18, 2021
- "Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Biden-Backed Immigration Overhaul Bill," CBS News, February 18, 2021
- "House Announces Sweeping Immigration Bill," CNN, February 18, 2021