A Year in Office: Biden’s Immigration Reforms Explained

With over a year under a Biden presidency, where does the country stand on immigration? If you ask around, you are likely to get a variety of opinions. While, on one hand, things in immigration are undeniably better under the new president, many immigration advocates have been disappointed with the lack of any significant change to immigration policy. Here is a recap of where things stand as of now.

As soon as President Biden stepped into office, he implemented a number of key changes to immigraiton policy that could be done via executive order or other means, without having to ask the legislature to pass anything into law:

  • He reprioritized the objectives of ICE, effectively putting a stop to raids in workplaces and other questionable places like COVID19 vaccination sites.
  • He made changes in the rules for ICE detention that aim to keep families together whenever possible.
  • He reversed the ban on Muslim immigrants from certain countries, instituted by President Trump.
  • He suspended Trump’s own suspension of visas issued in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • He put a higher cap on admitted refugees, from 15,000 annually under Trump to 62,500.
  • He proposed the US Citizenship Act of 2021, which has been stuck in Congress ever since.

Despite all these efforts, the thing that most immigration advocates were hoping for — significant change to our country’s immigration policies — has not been achieved. Biden’s Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), does have ambitious immigration reforms in it, but like the US Citizenship Act of 2021, has stalled. The BBB act passed the House of Representatives on November 18, 2021, but has been stuck in the Senate with no signs of progress. Many are afraid that with so many other things included (and a proposed $2 trillion in new spending), it will be extremely difficult, and probably impossible for this act to be passed in its current form.

Among other things, the Build Back Better included the following immigration related provisions:

  1. Section 60001 would make unauthorized aliens eligible for parole if they had entered the United States before January 1, 2011, and resided continuously in the country since then. They would be able to stay legally in the USA for up to 10 years, get a drivers license, be authorized to work in the United States, and be able to travel internationally. This provision is broad enough that it would also cover the so-called DREAMers that currently participate in the DACA program.
  2. Section 60002 would amend the INA to make unused employment-based visa numbers available in the following fiscal year, as currently occurs for most unused family-sponsored visa numbers. Section 60002 would also recapture any remaining family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant visas that went unused from FY1992 through FY2021. Some estimates say this could free up as many as 400,000 new visas.
  3. Section 60003 would allow such foreign individuals with family relations to United States citizens or an employer sponsor to file to adjust to LPR status even if an immigrant visa number is not immediately available. Filers would have to pay a supplemental fee of $1,500 (plus $250 for every adjusting family member). Filing to adjust status does not grant LPR status, and filers still must wait for an immigrant visa number before actually adjusting to LPR status.
  4. Section 60005 would appropriate $2.8 billion to USCIS in FY2022 to facilitate application adjudication related to this bill and to reduce case processing backlogs.

As recently as this week, the president has referred to the BBB plan. And yet, critics say that the plan is not under serious discussion in the Senate in its current form. Still, if broken up into several pieces of legislation, it may still have a chance at passing.

What cannot be underestimated, though, is the change in tone on immigration. Just this week, USCIS made two announcements: one reversing president Trump’s controversial changes to the public charge rule, and another encouraging certain visa applicants to use new application categories to get a better and faster result. So, there is certainly hope for more progress over the next three years.

Have a question about these immigration reforms and how they may relate to your immigration case? Contact me to discuss