Lawmakers proposed major changes to our immigration system that would benefit millions of immigrants living in the U.S. The proposed law, named the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would create an earned pathway to lawful permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship. Particularly, the following immigrant groups could see immediate opportunities to apply for immigration benefits if the bill is passed into law:
Certain immigrants living in the country since January 1, 2021, and who pass a background check
It is estimated that 12 million immigrants reside in the U.S. without status. They constantly live in fear of deportation. Most of them have significant ties to the U.S. –they work, they have families, they have businesses, and some already pay taxes. But they cannot legalize under the current system. This new law would give them a chance to apply for temporary status (as a “lawful prospective immigrant”), which would be good for six years. After five years, they can apply for permanent resident status (or “green card”) if they meet the qualifications and pass background checks. After three years, they can apply for citizenship.
Dreamers and DACA holders
Dreamers who entered the U.S. under 18 years of age and before January 1, 2021, may apply directly for legal permanent resident status if they meet educational requirements similar to the DACA program as well as other qualifications. Many Dreamers are still unable to apply for DACA because of their age or have not lived in the country for enough time. Under the new law, they would be given the opportunity to apply for legal status under more flexible age and residence requirements. Those who already have DACA will enjoy a streamlined process to obtain permanent resident status. After three years, they can apply for citizenship.
TPS and DED holders living in the U.S. since January 1, 2017
The Trump administration terminated TPS for many Central Americans. Most of them have lived in the U.S. for over twenty years and are firmly rooted in our communities. The new law would allow TPS and DED immigrants to apply for lawful permanent residence if they meet certain criteria and have continuously resided in the U.S. since January 1, 2017.
Immigrants who cannot legalize because of the “unlawful presence” bars
Many immigrants have a qualifying family member who can petition them for a green card. However, due to the applicant’s entry history and the time living in the country without status, they are barred from immigrating unless they are eligible for a waiver. In some cases, they are not eligible, and so, they are permanently barred even though they may have significant family ties here. The new law would eliminate these hurdles and make it easier to apply for permanent residence in the U.S.
Certain agricultural workers who have worked 2300 work hours or 400 workdays of agricultural labor could apply directly for a green card, assuming they pass a background check and meet the requirements.
Family members waiting for a visa
Many individuals have petitions filed by family members, but the wait has been too long. In some cases, they have been waiting over 20 years for their turn! The new law proposes the return of the “V visa” which provided temporary status and work permit to certain family members who have their petitions in the pipeline and are waiting for their turn to apply for a green card.
While we are excited about the new proposed law, it is important to understand these changes are not laws yet. The bill must pass through Congress and be signed by President Biden before it takes effect. The proposals above could be modified, changed, or even omitted in the final law.
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