Shortly after his January 20 inauguration, President Biden quickly signed several executive orders and made it known that he plans to overhaul a variety of U.S. laws. Addressing the critical issue of immigration, he sent Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The purpose of the bill, per the statement release, is to establish “a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manager migration across the Hemisphere.”
Practically speaking, if passed, the bill will have an impact on immigration law and how it affects businesses across the United States. The bill calls for the following:
- Creating an eight-year pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants. Immigrants could apply for temporary legal status and then apply for green card status after five years; three years later, they could apply for citizenship. During this time, they would be required to pay taxes and pass background checks. Agriculatural immigrant workers, temporary protected status (TPS) holders, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients (also known as Dreamers) who meet specific requirements would immediately be eligible for green cards. All applicants would need to have been physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could waive that requirement for those deported on January 20, 2017, or later.
- Providing relief to employment and family immigrant visa backlogs. The proposal would clear backlogs, eliminate long wait times, recapture unused visas, and end per-country visa caps. Immigrants with approved family-sponsorship petitions could join family members in the United States on a temporary status as they wait for green cards.
- Initiating a program to stimulate regional economic development. The proposal would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to adjust immigrant visa numbers based on local economic conditions. Dependents of H-1B visa holders would receive work authorization, and children would never “age out” of the system. In addition, U.S. university graduates with advanced STEM degrees would be exempt from immigrant visa caps.
- Protecting workers and improving the employment verification process. The bill calls for DHS and the Department of Labor to establish a commission—that includes employer, labor, and civil rights organizations—to submit recommendations for improving the employment verification process. Workers who are victims of workplace retaliation will be protected from deportation to allow labor agencies to interview them. Migrant and seasonal workers would receive more protections, and employers who violate labor laws could be subject to higher penalties.
In addition to these stipulations, the bill calls for enhanced technology and other methods to manage the border and protect the surrounding communities. The bill would also institute improvements in immigration courts and expanded training for immigration judges. As a way to recognize America as a nation of immigrants, the word “alien” would change to “noncitizen” in the immigration laws.
It is unclear how much of this bill will become law, but many of its proposals offer good news for the construction industry, as they will open doors for noncitizens to get jobs in the field and work toward their citizenship. However, employers will need to take extra care in following the new requirements, especially involving employment verification.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.