Washington: In his first official acts as US President, Joe Biden will send a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress which among other things proposes to eliminate the per country cap for employment-based green cards, a move that would benefit hundreds and thousands of Indian IT professionals whose current wait period for legal permanent residency runs into several decades.
Called the US Citizenship Act of 2021, the legislation modernises the immigration system, according to an incoming White House official.
It prioritises keeping families together, grows the country’s economy, responsibly manages the border with smart investments, addresses the root causes of migration from Central America, and also ensures that the US remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The bill clears employment-based visa backlogs, recaptures unused visas, reduces lengthy wait times, and eliminates per-country visa caps.
The bill makes it easier for graduates of US universities with advanced degrees, in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) stay in the US; improves access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors and eliminates other unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards.
It also provides dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorisation, and children are prevented from aging out of the system.
The bill also creates a pilot programme to stimulate regional economic development, gives DHS the authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivises higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition with American workers.
Describing this as a common-sense approach to solving immigration challenges, focusing on what works, the US Citizenship Act 2021 creates a roadmap to citizenship for a population that lives and works in the US.
January 1, 2021 is the cut-off date for those undocumented workers. Two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have been in the US for 10 years or longer.
It provides an immediate pathway to green cards for individuals who meet certain criteria as they were dreamers or have been recipients of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or are farm workers and meet certain criteria.
They can apply for citizenship three years later. For those who don’t meet those qualifications, there will be another path to citizenship, where they would be in an interim status for five years.
Afterwards they would be eligible to apply for citizenship within three years after becoming green card holders.
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.
It eliminates again, many of the unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards. 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 per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card or permanent legal residency.
Post the November election outcome, a document of the Biden transition had said he will reform the visa system that has kept so many Indian families in waiting for too long.
“He (Biden) will support first reforming the temporary visa system for high-skill, specialty jobs to protect wages and workers, then expanding the number of visas offered and eliminating the limits on employment-based green cards by country, which have kept so many Indian families in waiting for too long,” the document stated.
Biden’s bill also increases the diversity visa programme from 55,000 visas to 80,000 per year. This bill is Biden’s vision to fix the immigration system once and for all. But it’s only the Congress that can provide immigrants with a path to citizenship.
Biden looks forward to working with the Congress to fix our broken immigration system and protect vulnerable populations, including dreamers, those with TPS farm workers and essential workers, said the official.