A closer look at President-elect Biden's plan for immigration reform in the U.S.
The incoming Biden administration has unveiled an ambitious plan to improve the U.S. immigration system. As president, Joe Biden intends to create a productive immigration system that will keep families together, strengthen the economy, and attract top foreign talent.
In his first 100 days in office, President-elect Biden has outlined plans to:
- Modernize the American immigration system
- Mitigate irregular immigration
- Reaffirm the country's commitment to refugees and asylum-seekers
- Establish effective border screening procedures, and
- Welcome foreign nationals into U.S. communities
In the week leading up to the 2020 election, Envoy's Erik Prado held a webinar with Chris Richardson, a U.S. immigration attorney and former U.S. Consular Officer and Diplomat. In the webinar, Richardson explains that a Biden administration will use executive orders to reverse many of the Trump administration's actions.
Four components of Joe Biden's immigration plan
History Repeats Itself
The incoming Biden administration will revisit several critical immigration programs from the Obama administration, including:
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA)
- Central American Minors
DACA was established in 2012 under President Obama. It creates a pathway to legal citizenship for undocumented minors who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age. DACA allows non-U.S. citizens to live and work in the U.S. without the risk of deportation. To date, DACA has protected over 800,000 individuals from deportation. In 2017, a national study showed that 72% of DACA recipients had a bachelor's degree or higher. Over 90% were employed as healthcare professionals, childcare workers, educators, business owners and first responders.
Despite its successes, DACA has been targeted by the Trump administration. President Trump called for an end to DACA in 2017, which resulted in multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration. Several appellate courts subsequently ruled against the administration. Shortly after, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo in July 2020 that imposed limitations on the DACA program. On November 14, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York invalidated the agency's memo. DHS must now accept new and renewal DACA applications and issue two-year renewals for DACA beneficiaries instead of one-year renewals as outlined in the memo. The agency must also issue advance parole travel documents.
DAPA, a plan created in 2014 by President Obama, intends to help foreign nationals avoid immediate deportation and apply for residency by allowing qualifying undocumented foreign nationals to legally remain in the U.S. for a set period of time. If implemented, it would have protected approximately 3.6 million unauthorized foreign nationals from deportation and provided a pathway to legal employment. Through DAPA, parents of U.S. lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens would potentially qualify for three years of deferred action. The plan never came to fruition, but Biden seeks to change that.
Also on President-elect Biden's agenda is revisiting the Central American Minors (CAM) program. CAM, established by President Obama in 2014, allows legal U.S. citizens to apply to bring their children to the U.S. from Central America to live, provided they meet certain qualifying criteria. The State Department stopped accepting program applications in 2017.
Strengthening the Economy
The incoming Biden administration plans to invest "significant political capital" in reforming the nation's immigration policies to create a welcoming environment and stimulate economic growth. Through its initiatives to attract the "best and brightest" applicants to the U.S., a Biden administration aims to expand the country's economy, make the U.S. more competitive in global markets, and incentivize foreign talent to seek employment in the U.S. rather than other countries such as Germany, Canada, and the UK, which have created incentives to recruit highly skilled foreign workers.
Envoy's 2020 Immigration Trends Report found that countries worldwide are promoting immigration to strengthen their economies. Fifty-one percent of employers were considering Canada as an expansion destination in 2020 compared to 38% in 2019. They cited easier application processes, favorable permanent residency processes, and shorter processing times as key incentives. The UK recently launched a "fast-track" Global Talent Visa to attract leading scientists. Germany created the Skilled Labour Immigration Act in 2020 to expedite the application process for non-EU citizens to work in the country.
In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office found that comprehensive immigration reform would increase the size of the U.S. economy by five percent. The incoming Biden administration intends to facilitate immigration-based economic growth by supporting the rights of foreign workers and holding employers accountable under governing laws.
Visa Program Reforms
In 2020, companies cited an increasingly challenging visa application process, government scrutiny, and lack of transparency as their top immigration concerns. In FY 2020, H-1B denials and RFEs increased, further hampering employers' ability to hire foreign workers. Prospective changes to the H-1B program under President-elect Biden include expanding the definition of "specialty occupation," returning to an H-1B lottery system, and readjusting wage requirements to benefit skilled foreign applicants.
The incoming Biden administration supports reforming temporary visas to create a wage-based allocation system, removing caps limiting the number of employment-based visas per country, and expanding the number of skilled visas. President-elect Biden also supports legislation to reduce green card backlogs. Biden also plans to introduce new visas, such as the Heartland Visa, that attract top talent to rural communities.
Ending the Public Charge Rule
The incoming Biden administration will also seek to end the Public Charge Rule that took effect on February 24, 2020. The rule denies green cards and visas to applicants based on their likelihood of receiving government benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance. The Public Charge Rule has also been the subject of extensive litigation in U.S. courts, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with the changes above, President-elect Biden plans to reverse many policies implemented under the Trump administration during his first 100 days in office, including ending "Muslim Travel Bans," which impose immigration restrictions on 13 Muslim-majority countries.
Originally Published by Envoy, December 2020
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