One of President Biden’s first acts was to get to work reversing some of the punitive and obstructionist immigration regulations laid down by the previous administration. Biden sent to Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which according to his office “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.”

The bill is the start of a sweeping reformation effort that, if passed, would impact both business and family immigration. 

For business immigration, the bill proposes reforms that would:

  • Clear employment-based visa backlogs, recapture unused visas, reduce lengthy wait times, and eliminate per-country visa caps;
  • Make it easier for graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the U.S.;
  • Improve access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors;
  • Provide H-4 work authorization and prevent H-4 dependent children from “aging out” of the system;
  • Create a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development;
  • Give DHS the authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions.

 For families and individuals, the bill proposes reforms that would:

  • Allow undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes;
  • Make Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements eligible for green cards immediately;
  • Make all green card holders who pass qualifying measures eligible for citizenship after 3 years;
  • Recognize America as a nation of immigrants by changing the word “alien” to “noncitizen” in our immigration laws;
  • Streamline the family-based immigration system by clearing backlogs, recapturing unused visas, eliminating lengthy wait times, and increasing per-country visa caps. It would also allow immigrants with approved family-sponsorship petitions to join family in the U.S. while they wait for green cards to become available (rather than being forced to remain outside of the U.S., potentially for years, under the current system).

By sending the bill to Congress on his first day as President, Biden sent a strong signal that immigration is a high priority for his administration — even with the other daunting crises in play.  Although it’s far from clear whether the bill in its entirety will be adopted by the House and Senate, Democrats and immigration advocates are working to ensure that at least some key pieces will go on to become law.

It is early days for such reform, and we will be watching closely as the new administration pushes for change.