Hours after being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden sent an ambitious immigration reform bill to Congress that has the promise to create an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, bolster border security with new screening technologies, and deliver aid to Central America.
The bill referred to as the US Citizenship Act of 2021 modernizes the immigration system and also represents the most sweeping immigration reform package passed since 1986.
It marks a symbolic break with the restrictionist immigration policies that have defined the last four years under the rule of Donald Trump and therefore ushering in what Biden promises to be a more welcoming era for immigrants in the US.
More, it is being deemed as a move that would benefit hundreds and thousands of Indian IT professionals in the US, whose current wait period for legal permanent residency runs into several decades.
Some of the provisions of the bill are as follows
Implements Reforms To Legal Immigration
The centerpiece of the bill is a provision that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status and eventually, citizenship.
To qualify, they would have to have been present in the US on or before January 1, 2021, unless granted a waiver on humanitarian grounds.
Initially, they would be able to obtain a work permit and travel abroad with the assurance that they would be permitted to reenter. After five years, they would be able to apply for a green card if they pass background checks and pay taxes. Immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and Temporary Protected Status, as well as farmworkers, would, however, be able to apply for green cards immediately.
After holding their green card for three years and passing additional background tests, they could apply for US citizenship.
Increases Per Country Visa Caps
According to the incoming White House official, the bill reforms the family-based immigration system by recapturing unused visas to clear the backlog, eliminating the lengthy waits, and it increases their per-country visa caps.
It also eliminates the bars and other provisions that have kept families apart.
"The bill also clears employment-based immigration backlogs by reducing those backlogs altogether, eliminating the per country. It makes it easier for graduates of US universities with advanced degrees, in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields to stay in the US. It also improves access to green cards for workers from the low wage sectors," said the official.
Prohibits Discrimination Based on Religion
The bill also includes the No Ban Act that prohibits discrimination based on religion and limits presidential authority to issue future bans," the official added.
Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and come to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven percent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card or permanent legal residency.
Biden's bill also increases the diversity visa program from 55,000 visas to 80,000 per year.
Boosts Funding For Immigration Enforcement
The bill would allow for an unspecified increase in funding for immigration enforcement. An incoming White House official said that Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for Department of Homeland Security secretary, would have to assess the precise dollar amount required.
Those funds would go toward improving screening technology, officer training, infrastructure at ports of entry, and border security between ports of entry, favoring alternatives to a border wall.
The bill would also establish mechanisms to address misconduct among DHS’s ranks, increasing staff at the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates such cases, and requiring the agency to create a use-of-force policy.
The bill has earned praise from immigrant rights activists who see reform, which lawmakers have demanded for more than a decade, as an imperative. But it’s not clear whether it could pass in the Senate, where Democrats have a narrow majority and it would need at least 60 votes in order to survive the filibuster.
However, some Republicans, including Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, have already expressed concern that the bill doesn’t include sufficient border security provisions.