Hours after being sworn in as the 46th American president, Joe Biden directed Congress to pass a sweeping new bill to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 includes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, clears employment-based visa backlogs, and claims to make it easier for STEM graduates to stay in the country.
Here are four key takeaways of Biden’s proposed bill:
1. An eight-year pathway to citizenship
The new bill offers a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who were present in the United States on Jan. 1, 2021. Those who enter the program would be given a temporary legal status and allowed to apply for a green card after five years. They must first pass a criminal background check and show they paid taxes. Three years later, they would become eligible to apply for citizenship.
Certain individuals with long-standing ties to the United States and previous vetting by the government would be expedited, including over 1 million people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status—in addition to agricultural workers.
2. Removing bars for green card applicants
The bill will also eliminate three- and ten-year bars, which refers to the amount of time individuals who were unlawfully living in the United States are barred from being readmitted. Those who are in the country illegally for 180 days or less are barred for three years; those who are here unlawfully for more than one year are barred for 10 years.
The new bill will reverse these bars, allowing individuals with an approved family-sponsorship petition to join family in the United States on a temporary basis while they wait for green cards to become available. It will also reduce administrative burdens and expand pathways for employment-based visas and green cards, including for graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees and workers in lower-wage sectors.
3. Expanding existing immigration channels
The Biden administration also plans to address multiple issues with the family-based immigration system to bring families together, including clearing backlogs, recapturing unused visas, eliminating lengthy wait times, and increasing per-country visa caps. This bill would also provide work authorization for dependents of H-1B visa holders and prevent children of H-1B visa holders from “aging out” to keep their families together in the U.S.
This bill aims to improve immigration courts by expanding training for immigration judges, investing in better family case management programs and technology, and restoring judicial discretion. Increased judicial discretion would allow judges to use their judgment to grant relief to more immigrants who qualify.
4. Untangling immigration enforcement
Since 2003, Congress has authorized over $330 billion on immigration enforcement—and the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has nearly doubled. Yet we have not seen Congress pass any measures to support immigrants in over 30 years despite having consistently expanded the enforcement system. The new bill is different than previous efforts to pass a comprehensive bill because it is not directly tied to immigration enforcement measures, which have been the singular focus of immigration policy for years.
After four years of restrictions placed on immigrants by the Trump administration, it is refreshing to see such positive changes. If passed into law, the bill would finally provide channels for millions of people who call this country home, and who bring so much value to our economy and culture, to validate their status.