[COLUMN] Biden’s new US Citizenship Act of 2021 – key highlights

ON February 18, 2021, Pres. Biden and the Democrats formally introduced the “U.S. Citizenship Act” of 2021. It is a massive bill, over 350 pages long, covering a variety of immigration issues, and reforms, including a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the approximate 11 million undocumented noncitizens in the U.S.

I will not go through the entire bill in this column, but will discuss some of the important highlights that may apply to you or someone you know.

First, the U.S. Citizenship Act is still only a PROPOSAL. It is not yet a law. There is nothing for anyone to file or apply for at present.

Turning to the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, the key sections of the bill include:

1. Earned path to citizenship and other reforms;
2. Addressing the root causes of migration and responsible managing of the southern border;
3. Reform of the immigrant visa system;
4. Immigration courts, family values, and vulnerable individuals;
5. Employment authorization and protecting workers from exploitation.

Here are key highlights of the bill that will interest many of you:

1. Removal of word “Alien”. The Bill removes the term “alien” from immigration law. From now on, people who are not U.S. citizens or nationals will be referred to as “noncitizen.” So people who are out of status will no longer be referred to as “illegal aliens,” but noncitizens.

2. Earned path to citizenship. One of the most important aspects of this bill is the earned path to U.S. citizenship. It applies to noncitizens who have been in the U.S. continuously from January 1, 2021, until the date their application is approved.  Certain noncitizens who were deported on or after January 20, 2017 (when Trump took office) may also be eligible if they had been in the U.S. for at least 3 years before being deported.

A person will first be classified as a “lawful prospective immigrant” (LPI) for six years, which can be extended. The person would need to pass background criminal checks, would receive employment authorization, would be eligible for a Social Security number and card, may travel outside the U.S. on advance parole, and could be eligible for health coverage.

Even though LPI status is granted for six years, after a person has been an LPI for five years, the person can apply to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident. So it seems similar to the way green card holders naturalize: green card holder must maintain that status for at least five years to naturalize, an LPI must maintain status for five years before they apply to be a full “permanent” immigrant. Three years after being a permanent resident, the person could apply for U.S. citizenship.

3. DACA legalization & expansion of age requirement. The U.S. Citizenship Act also calls for the legalization of DACA recipients (green cards), and others who entered the U.S. before their 18th birthday. Right now, DACA required the person to have entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday. This means there might be more individuals who can qualify for legalization as Dreamers.

4. Legalization of agricultural workers. There is also a provision for the legalization of agricultural workers, who have demonstrated that they performed agricultural labor or services for at least 2,300 hrs. in the five years before their application. This is similar to an agricultural program back in the ‘80s called SAW or special agricultural workers.

5. Hope for people with expunged criminal record. This bill also provides hope for people who have previously been convicted of certain crimes. Right now, certain crimes could be a barrier to their being legalized, even if the conviction was expunged. This bill provides that a “conviction” would not include “an adjudication or judgment of guilt that has been dismissed, expunged, deferred, annulled, invalidated, withheld, or vacated.” Therefore, anyone who had a conviction that was expunged, while it still is held against you today, if this bill passes, depending on the type of crime, there could be hope for you.

6. Reclassification for families of immigrants as immediate relatives. This bill also re-classifies spouses and minor children of green card holders as “immediate relatives,” which is the same as spouses and children of U.S. citizens. At present, they are classified as F2A. But if they are considered immediate relatives, an advantage is if they overstayed and are out of status, they would be able to apply for their green cards in the U.S., versus having to depart the U.S. and apply abroad, which is presently the case for spouses and children of green card holders.

7. Repeal the 3/10-year bar. As for “promoting family unity,” this bill repeals the 3 and 10-year bar, (which provides that if a person is out of status for over 6 months and departs the U.S., they could be barred from returning for 3 or 10 years.) Therefore, if a person is not eligible to adjust status in the U.S., for example, because they are out of status and don’t have 245(i), entered as a crewman, or K-1 and didn’t marry the American who petitioned them, they could travel abroad for their immigrant visa without worrying about the 3- and 10-year bar or having to apply for a provisional waiver.

8. Children of Filipino World War II veterans. There is a section called the “Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act,” which provides that adult children of Filipino war veterans, whether single or married (F1 or F3), are not subject to direct numerical limitations on visas. Right now, there is a 10 to 20-year wait for adult children of Filipinos because they are subject to the numerical limitations or annual allotments of visas. This law may make them eligible to go to the front of the line.

As I stated in the beginning, this is only a proposal, and Biden is expecting pushback from the Republicans and negotiations and changes. It is not yet law, there’s nothing to apply for yet, but there will be developments in the coming weeks and months. I will continue to keep you updated on the latest developments of this proposal as well as other areas of immigration law, which you might find helpful either for yourself, your family, or your friends. Visit my YouTube channel at US Immigration TV for important news and updates.

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Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 40 years and is licensed, and an active member of the State Bars of California and New York. All immigration services are provided by, or under the supervision of, an active member of the State Bar of California. Each case is different, and results may depend on the facts of the particular case. The information and opinions contained herein (including testimonials, “Success Stories”, endorsements and re-enactments) are of a general nature, and are not intended to apply to any particular case, and do not constitute a prediction, warranty, guarantee or legal advice regarding the outcome of your legal matter. No attorney-client relationship is, or shall be, established with any reader.

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1 Comment
  1. Question? Do people with withholding of removal status who’ve been here since the age of 11 , now 34 years old, have any path to citizenship besides getting married with this bill?

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