Reforming the ‘long-broken’ US immigration system has been one of the foremost agendas of the Biden-Harris administration. The President vowed to establish a ‘fair and orderly’ immigration law that not only welcomes legal immigrants, but also keeps their families together and allows them to contribute more to the country in the long run.
On 4 February, the US Senate introduced the bipartisan National Security Agreement with reform measures aligned to President Joe Biden’s vision for a fair immigration law in America. The bill not only addresses border security concerns caused by illegal immigration, but also seeks to expedite work permits to eligible H4 visa holders, introduce ageing-out protection for children of H1B visa professionals, and increase the cap on the number of Green Cards issued annually. The bill finds strong support at the White House as the Biden-Harris administration urges the Congress to pass the bill immediately.
The National Security Agreement, if passed into law, will benefit one lakh skilled H4 dependents – spouses and children of certain long-term H1-B visa holders – looking for employment in the US. At present, H4 visa holders are required to obtain a work permit, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), to work in the US. This process takes 6-12 months or longer, because of which many miss out on the employment opportunity.
To address this, the bipartisan bill proposed automatic work permits to 100,000 H4 dependents of H1B visa holders who have completed their immigration visa petitions. This would eliminate the need to apply and wait for EAD approval to seek employment in the US, thus allowing skilled dependents ‘to contribute more fully to the country’. It, in turn, is a relief to over 250,000 H-4 dependent children as they will have a legal right to stay and work in the US temporarily even if they age out during the immigration process. However, the benefit applies to those who accompanied their parents as children and stayed in the US for at least 8 years before they turned 21 years old.
The Senate bill also propounds significant measures to clear the massive Green Card backlog, which has become a challenge for both applicants and USCIS officials alike. It seeks to increase the number of Green Cards (Permanent Resident Card) issued every year, thus effectively getting to the root of the backlog.
An increase of the annual limit of 1,40,000 employment-based green cards to 1,58,000 for the next five years would benefit a total of 90,000 employment-based green card seekers. Of the proposed 250,000 additional green cards over the next five years; 1,60,000 family-based green cards would facilitate lawful pathways to citizenship and ‘keep families together’. To further support family reunions, the bill includes a provision for certain noncitizens’ travel to the US on a temporary visitor visa (B visa) to meet their family members.
Additionally, 25,000 K-1, K-2, and K-3 visa holders (foreign-citizen fiancé of a US citizen, children of foreign-citizen fiancé, and foreign-citizen spouse of a US citizen respectively) are among the eligible beneficiaries of the automatic work authorization.