The 2020 US presidential election challenged democratic tenets. It exposed many vulnerabilities and complexities in the electoral processes. Among the expectable clashes of republican and democrat ideologies, one subject stood out. This was immigration. With new management in the White House, here is a look at some changes in US migration policy.

Campaign slogans

The ideologies of the former and current presidents seemed to be much in disagreement. Biden called Trump’s immigration policies an “unrelenting assault” on American values. He promised to undo them if elected. President Biden unveiled the ‘US Citizenship Act of 2021’.  The new proposal offers an 8-year pathway to anyone who illegally arrived in the US. The New York Times called it “perhaps the most ambitious immigration redesign passed since 1986.” The comparison is with Ronald Reagan’s ‘Immigration Reform and Control Act’ which made 3 million people legal citizens of the US. Some of the components of Biden’s proposal are as follows:

Pathways to citizenship for the undocumented

Undocumented migrants can now become US citizens. Provisions in the Citizenship Act allow undocumented persons to seek temporary legal status and apply for green cards after 5 years of stay. Applicants must pass various security checks. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries, DREAMers, and migrant farmers can also be awarded green cards, subject to conditions. At the end of 3 years green card holders who have knowledge of English and US civics can seek citizenship subject to conditions. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary is empowered to waive the condition for certain types of applicants.

For the US economy

Vast communities of migrants live and work in America. They regularly send remittances to their home countries via the Ria Money Transfer App and other channels. Their contributions to the US economy are well-documented. However, US firms have been facing some challenges in hiring skilled expat professionals. The new bill seeks to address employment-related visa backlogs. It aims for lower document processing times and better utilization of unused visas and per-country visa-caps.

The bill makes it easier for graduates of US Universities with advanced STEM degrees to remain in the US. The bill waives some barriers for employment-related green cards. It enables workers in lower wage brackets to have improved access to green cards. The act will permit dependents of H-1B visa holders to work. It will potentially prevent children from “aging out” of visa eligibility. The proposed bill empowers DHS to adjust green card permissions according to macroeconomic realities. To guard against unfair competition with American workers the bill adds incentives to award visas to highly-skilled non-immigrants.

Integration and citizenship

The proposed bill seeks to provide funds to many bodies for the accomplishment of several projects. These include assisting persons aspiring for citizenship, speeding up integration and inclusion, and more access to learning English. The bodies being funded include states, local governments, educational establishments, community-based organizations, private firms, and non-profit organizations.

Uniting families

The bill seeks to reform family-oriented immigration formalities. This will help ease challenges that arise from visa backlogs and unused visas. The bill voids the so-called ‘3 and 10-year bars’ as well as other provisions that separate immigrant family members. It advocates support for families in terms of permanent unions. It rejects discriminatory practices against LGBTQ+. The bill offers protection to Filipino World War II veterans, widows, orphans, and children. Immigrants whose family sponsorship petitions have been approved can temporarily unite with their families in the US while anticipating their green cards.

Assisting vulnerable populations

The bill seeks to end the policy of imposing a 1-year deadline for filing asylum claims. It sets funds aside for speedy clearance of asylum application backlogs. U visa, T visa, and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) candidates can enjoy more protection. The bill proposes a 30,000 cap for U visas, up from 10,000 previously.

Foreigners supporting US forces are to enjoy increased protection under the act. There is a NO BAN Act that stops religious-based discrimination as well as restricting presidential powers to impose bans. This addresses measures such as Trump’s executive order 13769. There is a proposed increment in the number of Diversity Visas from 55,000 to 80,000.

In summary

Biden’s promptness in putting forward the new immigration bill is a sharp contrast from the previous democrat government in which he served as vice president. Biden sent the bill to congress on his first day as president. He also signed 3 immigration-related orders including bringing back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, revocation of the travel ban, and halting construction of the Mexico-US barrier. There is much optimism in the US and elsewhere.

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