‘Biden can remake US immigration policy for the 21st century’

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For the first time in history, more Americans support increasing immigration than decreasing it.

President‐elect Joe Biden has a golden opportunity to remake US immigration policy for the 21st century with the greatest reduction in legal immigration in American history during the Trump era, according to a leading Washington think tank.

Biden, who has vowed to start on Day One of his presidency, will have to exert considerable effort to get the US immigration system back to where it was in 2016, say Alex Nowrasteh and David J. Bier of Cato Institute in a new policy paper.

Biden, they suggest, can immediately repeal the immigration bans that President Donald Trump enacted in response to covid-19 and the ensuing recession, which Biden rightly criticized because “immigrants help grow our economy and create jobs.”

In some cases, Biden can issue executive actions to expand legal immigration beyond just repealing Trump’s regulations and orders, Nowrasteh and Bier suggested.

READ: Biden promises pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented (November 25, 2020)

He can allow relief for some applicants stuck in the family‐ sponsored green card backlog of roughly 3.5 million by expanding the Department of Homeland Security’s parole authority.

Biden could also stop counting the spouses and minor children of workers who enter on a green card against the numerical caps to essentially double the annual number of legal workers who can earn a green card, they suggested.

Currently, US law allows 140,000 green cards for workers, but less than half of those go to the workers themselves — the rest go to their immediate family members.

The new administration could also deregulate employment authorization for temporary workers and their family members by expanding on the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations, the paper suggested.

While Bush allowed foreign STEM students to work after their graduation, Obama administration even allowed some spouses of H-1B high‐skilled workers to work if they were in line for a green card.

Biden, the policy paper noted, has said he intends to ask Congress to increase the number of employment based green cards for skilled immigrant workers.

READ: US to require sponsors to show ability to support immigrants (October 1, 2020)

His proposal would allow the number to fluctuate with the unemployment rate and exempt PhDs from US doctoral programs from the caps entirely.

Biden also wants to increase family‐sponsored immigration by exempting about 90,000 spouses and minor children of green card holders from the numerical caps.

Those green cards would then go to some of the more than 3 million adult children and siblings of US citizens and green card holders caught in decades‐ long backlogs, the paper said.

“America has an image of itself as being proudly open to immigration, but for a long time that hasn’t been the reality,” Nowrasteh and Bier observed. “The immigration system is so constrained that it has built up an unprecedented backlog of nearly 5 million applicants for green cards.”

About 68 percent of the employment-based backlog was from India in April 2020, Bier noted in a previous paper.


In 1991, the last time Congress adjusted the numerical caps on green cards, those limits forced three percent of green card recipients to wait more than a decade to immigrate.

Now it’s 28 percent. And those are just the immigrants who received green cards. In 2020, about 23 million people worldwide applied for America’s green card lottery, with just 50,000 winners.

Biden’s election should give immigrants as well as Americans who want expanded legal immigration more hope than they have had in decades, Nowrasteh and Bier wrote.

Biden has no political reason to back down from his campaign promises on immigration policy, they said noting that for the first time in Gallup poll’s 55‐ year history, more Americans support increasing immigration than decreasing it.

Support for decreasing immigration has imploded, dropping from 50 percent in 2009 to 28 percent today — mostly before Trump even took office.

Meanwhile, support for increasing immigration rose from 14 percent to 34 percent over the same period, while the percentage who want to keep the present levels has remained about constant in the high 30s. As importantly for Biden, half of Democrats want increased immigration.

In 2020, 77 percent of Americans called immigration a “good thing” for the country today, up 20 percentage points since 2010.

The turnaround in public perception is even more dramatic because Gallup asks about all immigration, not just legal immigration, so the poll likely understates support for legal immigrants.

President Trump and candidate Biden presented Americans with a stark choice on immigration: cut legal immigration or expand it, the paper said.

Noting that “they chose to expand it, aligning their votes with the trend in polling responses,” Nowrasteh and Bier wrote, “No president has ever had more political momentum to loosen legal immigration restrictions than Biden will have.”

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