Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Since the new American President arrived in the White House a year ago, he and his team have taken several steps to undo the immigration-related restrictions introduced by his predecessor.
The list includes plans to admit more refugees, not applying the notorious 'public charge' system that prevents immigrants who could possibly use public benefits such as Medicaid from getting green cards, and protecting immigrants who entered the U.S. as children from deportation.
Biden also did away with measures implemented by his predecessor during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic that dramatically limited visa numbers granted to immigrants from 266,000 during the 3rd quarter of fiscal 2019 to around 79,000 in the April-June quarter of 2020.
The Biden administration's most important immigration-related plan yet is to provide a framework that will make it possible for millions of unauthorized immigrants who are already in the U.S. to become legal citizens and to allow more new immigrants into the country.
This would establish an 8-year road to citizenship for America's around 10.5 million illegal immigrants, result in more diversity visas being issued, change a number of visa rules related to employment, and adjust the current family-based immigration rules where deemed necessary.
The U.S. Senate is also currently considering various provisions related to immigration in the Build Back Better Act passed in November last year. While it's by no means certain that this bill will be approved, if it is. it would make it possible for nearly 7 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, work permits, and protection against deportation.
Biden has, however, first terminated and then re-introduced the 'Remain in Mexico' policy that forces individuals who arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico with the aim of applying for asylum to stay in Mexico while their cases are considered by the authorities.
Below are the most important details regarding current American immigration programs and the changes that President Biden envisages:
During the 2019 fiscal year, the American government awarded well over 139,000 green cards to foreigners who found work in the country and their families. This number is currently capped at around 140,000 a year - but the Biden administration hopes to get past that by allowing the kids and spouses of those who have employment-based visas to get green cards that are not taken into account against the yearly cap. It also wants to utilize unused visa slots from preceding years and get rid of legislation that limits green cards issued to citizens of a particular country to a maximum of 7% of the total in any given year.
In the 2019 fiscal year, more than 700,000 individuals managed to qualify for permanent residence in the United States via family sponsorship. This system makes provision for a person who already has a parent, sibling, child, or spouse who holds U.S. citizenship to get a green card.
In terms of Biden's proposal, more family-based green cards will be issued by, for example, clearing the large backlog in applications and raising per-country caps.
In fiscal 2021 the U.S. admitted a decidedly meager 11,421 refugees, compared to 85,000 in fiscal 2016. This can partly be ascribed to the Covid-19 pandemic and partly to the Trump administration placing a cap of 18,000 on refugee admissions in fiscal 2020. For the 2022 fiscal year, Biden has raised the refugee cap to 125,000.
During the 2019 fiscal year well over 188,000 highly skilled foreign workers qualified for H-1B visas. This figure represented 22% of all temporary employment visas for that year. In total, close to 2 million of these visas have been issued since 2007.
It is expected that the Biden administration will review Trump-era policies that caused increasing numbers of H-1B visas to be denied. Biden has also suggested legislation that will enable spouses of individuals who hold H-1B visas to get permanent work permits.
On average around 50,000 individuals per year qualify for a green card via America's diversity visa program, sometimes referred to as the visa lottery. The program aims to grant visas to individuals from nations that are underrepresented in the U.S. immigrant population. While Donald Trump tried to get this program terminated, the Biden administration has suggested legislation that will increase the total to 80,000 per year.
At the end of 2020, nearly 636,000 unauthorized immigrants had gained protection against deportation and temporary work permits via the DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
After being elected, Biden immediately instructed the federal government to take steps to ensure that the plan remains in place. This came after Donald Trump attempted to abolish it but his attempts were thwarted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under the immigration bill envisaged by the Biden administration, beneficiaries of the DACA program, often referred to as 'Dreamers', would be granted a clear road to U.S. citizenship. U.S. senators have also suggested separate legislation with the same end goals in mind.
A fairly limited number of immigrants who entered the U.S. under 'unusual circumstances' and without authorization have been granted temporary legal permission to remain in the country. Currently, there is no legal path for these people to eventually qualify for permanent residence. Examples of such programs include:
According to most estimates, well over 700,000 immigrants originating from 12 different countries are presently either eligible for protection or have already been granted protection from being deported under the TPS or Temporary Protected Status program. This federal program grants permission for a limited number of immigrants from specific countries to live and work in the United States for a limited time. The TPS program covers individuals who fled from these countries because of hurricanes, military conflicts, earthquakes, or other unusual circumstances that endangered their lives.
The total estimated number of around 700,000 immigrants is based on individuals already registered plus an estimated figure for those from Venezuela and Myanmar who might soon become eligible.
Immigrants from these two nations only became eligible for the TPS program when the Department of Homeland Security made certain changes to it after the Biden administration came into office. The TPS program is managed by this department.
The U.S. government has to renew TPS benefits from time to time to prevent them from expiring. The current status is that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the program's benefits for qualifying immigrants from the following 9 countries: Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Nicaragua, Nepal, Honduras, Haiti, and El Salvador. Haiti was added to the list after the recent turmoil in that country.
The Biden administration and a group of Democrats in Congress have suggested that the U.S. should grant citizenship to immigrants who get TPS benefits and who meet certain criteria. Under the administration's large immigration bill, TPS beneficiaries who meet the various conditions could immediately apply for green cards and if successful become legal permanent residents of the United States.
In terms of this proposal, TPS holders who meet the necessary criteria will be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship 3 years after getting a green card, instead of the current 5 years. This is in stark contrast to the Trump administration's attempts to terminate the TPS program for virtually all beneficiaries. That was only prevented from happening by a series of court cases.
By taking a multi-faceted approach, the Biden Administration hopes to relieve the pressure built on the U.S. visa and immigration processes from policies left in place by his predecessor and COVID-19 restrictions. Whether or not he is able provide much needed overhaul to the efficiency of these processes remains to be seen.