What you need to know about the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” President Biden’s Proposed Immigration Bill

President Biden released the details of his ambitious immigration reform bill shortly after taking the oath of office on January 21, 2021. The bill, known as the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” would allow millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to apply for legal status, increase aid to Central America, refocus border control measures and expand legal immigration. Here is what else you need to know:

  • Roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals: It would allow them to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after 5 years. Dreamers, TPS holders and other similar groups would be eligible for green cards immediately. After 3 years, all green card holders would be eligible to apply for citizenship.
  • Unlawful presence bars: The bill would revoke the 3- and 10-year unlawful presence bars for those who have been present unlawfully in the US for 6 months or over a year.
  • Reducing the green card back log:
    • Family-based preference categories: There are multiple provisions designed to reduce the current green card backlogs, which for nationals of some countries like India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines, can mean the process of obtaining a green card can take 20+ years
    • Employment-based preference categories: The bill would also create similar reforms for the employment-based immigration system, where backlogs are even worse. Under the current system, some Indian nationals seeking a green card are predicted to have a 100+ year wait for a visa. Children of H-1B visa holders would also be prevented from “aging out” of the system.
  • Muslim Ban – Never again! It would eliminate the law that allowed Trump to impose the Muslim Ban and replace it with a provision that requires consultation with Congress, specific factual findings, can only be used for a narrow list of topics, and can't be indefinite.
  • Immigration Court Changes: The bill would
    • Require the government to provide counsel for children in immigration court.
    • Restore discretion to immigration judges so that everyone can ask for a second chance to remain in the United States. Congress got rid of a version of that authority in 1996 and it did enormous damage.
  • Improving the Asylum System: The bill would also make some vital changes to the asylum system, including repealing the one-year filing deadline (also introduced in 1996) and authorizing funding to reduce the 300,000+ affirmative asylum backlog at USCIS. I wish it did more on substantive asylum law, though.
  • Reducing U-Visa backlog: The current backlog for U-visas is over 100,000. The bill would chip away at the backlog by increasing the cap from 10,000 to 30,000.
  • Addressing the root causes of migration at the border: One major portion of the bill is designed to address the underlying causes of migration by increasing assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, conditioned on their ability to reduce the corruption, violence, and poverty that has caused so many people to flee.
  • Increase protections for migrant workers: The bill would increase protections for migrant workers, who are often exploited by their employers in really terrible ways.