Published on: Feb 11, 2021, Last Edited: Feb 11, 2021
New immigration legislation introduced by President Joe Biden looks set to boost the numbers of foreign workers in the United States and allow them to gain a Green Card at a later date. It could also eventually allow the estimated ten to twelve immigrants living in the States without documents to become citizens. Biden's proposals will also accelerate the process of granting Green Cards to the "Dreamers" - the group of immigrants brought to the country as children without documents - as well as immigrant agricultural workers and applicants with temporary protected status.
The new president additionally reversed several Donald Trump immigration policies through executive action. Under the US Citizenship Act 2021, undocumented immigrants will be eligible for temporary legal status. After five years and satisfactory background checks, they will also have the right to apply for Green Cards, provided they have paid tax.
Holders of protected temporary status, some categories of agricultural workers, and Dreamers would be eligible for Green Cards immediately. They would then be able to apply for citizenship after three years. Diversity visas would also receive a boost. The diversity visa program or Green Card lottery selects applicants from the countries with the lowest number of immigrants to the US during the previous 5 years. The aim of the program is to diversify America's immigrant population. In 2019, the program received around 12 million applications.
The number of visas issued by the so-called Green Card Lottery, currently 55,000 a year, will rise to 80,000 annually. At present, people have been banned from re-entering the country for three to ten years if they leave the US after living in the country illegally. The wording of existing immigration laws would also change so that "non-citizen" will replace "alien.”
Perhaps some of the most significant proposals in President Biden's bill are those that aim to incentivize US employers to offer higher wages to workers on H1-B visas. During his presidency, Donald Trump implemented restrictions to employment-based visas as part of his America First program to encourage companies to hire US workers. But the result was that companies who had previously been hiring cheaper foreign workers with h1-B visas were now exporting jobs away from the United States.
The H1-B visa allows businesses to hire foreign specialist workers on short and medium-term contracts. Immigration experts believe that Biden's reversal of Trump's restrictions on this visa will benefit thousands of IT and tech specialists from Africa, Asia, and Europe. This visa is also essential in securing the supply of skilled workers who are educated in the United States. Currently, about three-quarters of graduate students in vital technology sectors at American universities are international, and the H1-B visa will allow them to work in the US after completing their studies.
President Biden has proposed that the regulation regarding hiring H-1B employees based on the highest salary should remain frozen until 21 March 2021 at the earliest. The regulation changing the definition of employee-employer relationships for the purposes of the H-1B visa should also be withdrawn.
It is believed that President Trump's reforms of immigration law have reduced immigration by almost 50%. The H1-B restrictions had particularly significant implications for the country, with specialized jobs being exported abroad. Business groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) have expressed support for the new policies, including the reform of the visa system and setting the Dreamers on the road to citizenship.
If President Biden's bill passes, it will herald the most significant US immigration law changes since 1986. President Reagan introduced legislation that granted legal status to 3 million immigrants living and working in the United States without papers. However, the bill may yet face opposition in Congress and the Senate. A minimum of ten Republicans will need to vote with all 50 Democrats to avoid a filibuster. Senator Cruz is amongst those voicing his opposition. The Biden administration has already admitted that they may not be able to pass the bill in total during the first 100 days of the presidency.