Legislation increases employment-based visas, exempts family of permanent residents from caps.
The Biden administration has rolled out a sweeping immigration bill increasing country and other types of visa caps on immigrants opening new avenues for Indians who have to wait for decades for green cards.
The bill unveiled Thursday also increases employment-based visas from 140,000 to 170,000, while also reopening roughly 200,000 unused visa slots from years past in an effort to reduce the backlog.
The legislation would also increase visa options on the family-based side of the immigration system to reduce wait times for those who may currently wait as long as 20 years to join family in the US.
It would also exempt certain categories from counting toward annual caps. For example, spouses, partners and children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents would be exempt from the caps.
Besides making efforts to ease immigration timelines abroad, the legislation provides path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, including over 400,000 from India, residing in the US as also Dreamers brought in as children.
The bill represents President Joe Biden’s chance to deliver major changes to a system where both parties see a need for reform but are sharply divided on how to deliver it, the Hill noted.
White House officials called the bill a chance to “reset and restart conversations on immigration reform,” labeling the bill as Biden’s “vision of what it takes to fix the system.”
But even with a Democrat-led Congress, passing an immigration bill will be a heavy lift given that Senate Democrats would need to secure 10 Republican votes to pass the bill through the regular legislative process, the Hill noted.
In addition to Dreamers, the bill would also allow immigrant farmworkers and those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), who came to the US as far back as the 1990s amid natural disasters and other unrest in their countries of origin, to quickly gain green cards.
Undocumented individuals living in the US would also be able to seek green cards after five years. Each of the groups could seek citizenship three years after gaining their green card, creating a maximum eight year path to citizenship.
It also changes the term alien in law to noncitizen to “better reflect the President’s values on immigration.”
If the bill passes, it would be the first major immigration bill approved by Congress since 1996, when lawmakers voted to create the enforcement and deportation system largely still in use today.
Rather than trade amnesty for some immigrants for an increase in enforcement as was often done in prior legislative attempts, Biden’s US Citizenship Act of 2021 largely focuses on expanding immigration and looking to address root cases of migration, the Hill said.
READ: Is the bill to end green card country caps, S.386, dead? (December 26, 2020)
“The law is already there. There is no need for added enforcement mechanisms,” a senior White House official was quoted as saying on a call with reporters.
The bill also lifts the so-called three- and ten-year bars that restrict people from reentering the US if they’ve overstayed their visa.
It also ups the number from diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000, a substantial increase that will boost the number of immigrants from nations that otherwise have low levels of immigration to America.
The bill also triples the number of visas available to those who have been the victim of certain crimes including domestic violence, upping the number from 10,000 to 30,000.
The legislation proposes creating a commission composed of employers, labor unions and civil rights advocates to make recommendations on improving worker verification, according to an administration official cited by CNN.
The measure would also increase protections for immigrants who come forward to report labor violations and increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
The bill provides funding for more immigration judges and puts an emphasis on access to counsel. It authorizes funding for counsel for children and vulnerable individuals, and eliminates the one-year limit for filing an asylum case.
The bill would address root causes of migration and work to tackle them by, for example, cracking down on smugglers and narcotics and trafficking networks.
It would seek to create legal and safer pathways for migration by setting up refugee processing in Central America and would create a $4 billion investment plan in the region.
The measure also includes enhancing technology and infrastructure at the border, like enhanced screening at ports of entry.
In a bid to reverse former President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies, Biden has already taken several steps including striking down Trump’s so-called Muslim ban and ending the emergency authorization for construction of the border wall.
Besides a new asylum process to replace Trump’s remain in Mexico policy, he’s also sought to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 after Trump cut it to a historic low of 15,000.
But the legislation could face substantial pushback from Republicans, who have already been highly critical of Biden’s early moves on immigration, the Hill noted.
The effort comes as there are multiple standalone bills in Congress aimed at revising smaller pieces of the country’s immigration system, CNN reported.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, for example, have reintroduced their DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
Administration officials cited by CNN said the best path forward and plans either to pass one bill or break it into multiple pieces would be up to Congress.
“There’s things that I would deal by itself, but not at the expense of saying, ‘I’m never going to do the other.’ There is a reasonable path to citizenship,” Biden said at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“The President is committed to working with Congress to engage in conversations about the best way forward,” one administration official was quoted as saying.
Sen. Mike Lee calls S.386 a good bill that needs to pass (February 21, 2020)
Trump talks about changes in H-1B Visa, including a possible citizenship (January 11, 2019)
Trump’s tweet on H-1B and path to citizenship evokes lukewarm response (January 12, 2019)