New York Lawyer's Legal Updates

Immigration Reform: U.S. Citizenship Act 2021

Author: New York Immigration Lawyer Alena Shautsova

The US Citizenship Act 2021 marks the next wave of President Biden’s immigration reform. It is intended to bring about the sweeping changes his campaign and his supporter's dream of.

Where the sweeping nature of the reforms may be seen by many as a moral necessity, the lack of support from the GOP will mean that dreamers may only see their dreams realised by other means.

The bill is designed to be a roadmap to citizenship (hence the name) for many undocumented migrants that currently reside in the US, as well as a reforming document for the current US visa system and a change to US law on asylees and refugees. For undocumented US residents, it proposes first a prospective residence for six years with an opportunity to file for permanent residence after five years. Once the person holds the permanent residence for three years, he/she will be able to apply for naturalization.

As is usually the case with proposed legal changes, the devil is in the detail. But forensics aside, the bill’s main purposes are thus:

The bill provides an earned roadmap to citizenship for DACA residents – undocumented migrants brought to the US as children – as well as providing avenues for those with Temporary Protected Status, and some agricultural workers. Under the Citizenship Act, these individuals will be placed on a three-year path to citizenship. Undocumented citizens of other kinds will be subject to more rigorous administrative procedure and background checks.

The new bill also seeks to unburden the system through a range of new measures. These might not be welcomed by some political ideologues but they will be welcomed by the over the burgeoning system itself. The President seeks to extend provision for recapturing visas from previous years, in order to clear an administrative backlog of petitions, claims and complaint.

The Citizenship Act potentially raises the per-country cap imposed on petitioners and their emigration to the US. The number of admitted non-migrants allowed to work in the US, join their families, or conduct a life of any kind in the US, will be allowed to rise.

This want to scrap per-country caps extends itself into the bill’s other purposes. The bill seeks to entice STEM talent from nations that have a surplus of personnel and not the financial means to retain them. The H-1B Visa is opened up to advanced degree holders to encourage talented students from afar to stay. If passed, this bill could result in greatly increased access to the US employment market for unskilled labour under a liberalisation of the H-1B Visa rules, without a provision to consciously target particular areas of shortage.

With respect to asylum employment authorisation:

The Act proposed to revert back to 180 day-pending eligibility criteria plus to make it that the employment authorisation will be valid until the final denial of the application. Persons who will be in detention or whose application were found to be frivolous will be disqualified.

Asylum law changes related to filing deadline:

The Act proposes to eliminate the one year filing deadline and allow motions to reopen for those applicants who was ordered deported or was granted withholding of removal only because the one year deadline was missed.

With respect to the U visas:

The Act provides for more visas to be issued annually. Plus, the Act proposes to provide U visas to workers who suffered serious labour violations.

The Act also proposes a pilot program to promote immigrant integration at State and local levels; English as a Gateway to Integration grant program; Workforce Development and Shared Prosperity grant program; In-state tuition rates for refugees, asylees, and certain special immigrants; Waiver of English requirement for senior new Americans; Naturalization for certain United States high school graduates and more. It would not be possible to outline the entirety of the proposed changes the Biden administration seeks to achieve with the Citizenship Act in this one post. Simply put, there are too many. Moreover, I doubt we need to concern ourselves with much of it.

The administration is more than aware that a wholesale overhaul of the immigration system might go down like a lead balloon. This jam-packed bill is a mere strategy as part of a long negotiation.

The GOP have previously expressed their unwillingness to back much of the bill, thanks to a perception that any changes of the kind proposed might be seen as an amnesty on illegal immigration. There is a fear that any move toward giving undocumented migrants citizenship might encourage future migrants to pursue illegal means of entering the US.

Where Democrats hope to break down the GOP is in highlighting the plight of dreamers. These undocumented migrants were brought to the US as children, unable to legally protest, and now remain as adults - paying taxes and contributing to their communities. There is a great deal of sympathy from both Republicans and Democrats alike for this cohort. Many dreamers have deportation deferrals, yet they live in a state of legal purgatory.

Whatever bipartisan support lays in wait for dreamers, it won’t cast itself over the entirety of the Citizenship Act. With this in mind, Democrats have been preparing other avenues of legislative change to ensure that dreamers, at least, get the change they need.

A bipartisan bill on DACA, the Dream Act, has already been introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin in an attempt to provide a pathway to citizenship for dreamers. Just in case this wasn’t enough, the American Dream and Promise Act will be brought forth to tackle the same issue. When it comes to dreamers, it is thought that GOP support might be attainable, even in the Senate where Democrats hold a single-vote majority.

If bipartisan support for dreamers fades and change for dreamers is filibustered, Democrats will attempt to sidestep bridge-building and engage their legislative dream for the DACA cohort through the budget reconciliation process. This legislative process is one that allows Congress to stomp out any prospect of filibuster under the guise that the legislation concerned is materially concerned with tax, spending and the debt limit. This method of passing legislation will be President Biden’s bridge-burning push for reform if the GOP cannot be convinced.

Enforcing legislative change by this method would be divisive. But if Democrats are left no other option, I do not doubt that key changes on immigration will be made via the reconciliation process, with or without GOP support.

If you need help with your Immigration issue, please call us to set up an appointment at 917-885-2261.

In the law office of Alena Shautsova, NYC Immigration lawyer, we help clients to anaze their Immigraation situation and chances of applying for various Immigration benefits.

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24 February 2021
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