There is a distinct chance that the United States will have a new president on January 20,2021. Joe Biden’s immigration plan makes big changes to the current system.
While nothing can happen overnight, a Biden administration can make significant adjustments shortly after January 20, 2021. In fact, regardless of which party controls the Senate, he can accomplish much by Executive Order, as President Trump has done.
In the past, immigration reform was a bi-partisan issue that both sides recognized as urgently needing a 21st Century update. We are hopeful that both parties can work together to accomplish meaningful immigration reform during the new administration’s first year. As Biden’s website explains:
“Biden will immediately begin working with Congress to modernize our system, with a priority on keeping families together by providing a roadmap to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants; growing our economy and expanding economic opportunity across the country by improving and increasing opportunities for legal immigration; and preserve the longstanding directive of our immigration system to reunite families and enhance our diversity.”
Biden has pledged to take action on immigration, even within the first 100 days
1. Immediately reverse the Trump administration’s policies that separated children from their parents at the border.
Biden’s web site notes the fact that there are over 500 children who still remain separated from their parents who have already been deported. He says he will end “… the prosecution of parents for minor immigration violations as an intimidation tactic, and prioritize the reunification of any children still separated from their families.”
The Department of Homeland Security failed to keep records of the information needed to quickly reunite these remaining children and parents. Finding the parents requires an on-the-ground effort in their home countries, which the Trump administration has already started.
2. Reform and streamline visa programs for temporary workers including H-1B, agricultural and hospitality, and J-1 visas.
Temporary workers play important roles in almost every industry, from farming and hospitality to medicine and technology. Recently, both the Department of Labor and USCIS implemented new rules for hiring foreign workers, almost overnight. These agencies face litigation over the degree of notice provided for these changes and the burden the rules place on businesses and visa holders. Biden’s plan also provides for a long-sought path to a green card for agricultural workers. His web site states:
“The current system for accommodating these workers is cumbersome, bureaucratic, and inflexible—driving up incentives to circumvent the system by hiring undocumented laborers and allowing the employers who control the visa to pay artificially low wages … Employers should be able to supply data showing a lack of labor availability and the harm that would result if temporary workers were unavailable. This flexibility, coupled with strong safeguards that require employers to pay a fair calculation of the prevailing wage and ensure the right of all workers to join a union and exercise their labor rights, will help meet the needs of domestic employers, sustain higher wages for American workers and foreign workers alike, incentivize workers and employers to operate within legal channels, prevent exploitation of temporary workers, and boost local economies. “
3. Increase or decrease the number of employment-based immigrant visas as needed in the labor market.
The number of foreign workers who obtain employment-related visas, should fluctuate with real-time demand and meet the actual skills employers need. Biden believes that, while helping American businesses fill their empty positions, the country must also protect U.S. workers’ jobs. In order to do this, we must have reliable and realistic industry data at a more granular level, from industries affected by labor shortages. And, employers should not be able to displace qualified American workers with foreign labor willing to work for less.
The current immigration system is designed to prevent this from happening and requires employers to hire American workers first. However, the system for ensuring that employers protect American workers when hiring foreign labor is outdated, cumbersome, and expensive for employers. It needs updating and streamlining. As per Biden’s web site:
“Currently, the number of employment-based visas is capped at 140,000 each year, without the ability to be responsive to the state of the labor market or demands from domestic employers. As president, Biden will work with Congress to increase the number of visas awarded for permanent, employment-based immigration—and promote mechanisms to temporarily reduce the number of visas during times of high U.S. unemployment. He will also exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM fields in the U.S. who are poised to make some of the most important contributions to the world economy. Biden believes that foreign graduates of a U.S. doctoral program should be given a green card with their degree and that losing these highly trained workers to foreign economies is a disservice to our own economic competitiveness.”
4. Protect the children in the DACA program and offer them a path to citizenship.
The Obama-Biden administration created DACA in 2012 to protect undocumented children. This created a legal status for these children who were brought here by their parents, allowed them to work, attend college, and become teachers, firefighters, and doctors. We expect to see Biden quickly reinstating DACA and continuing to strive to protect their families. His web site states:
“The Trump Administration made the cruel and counterproductive decision to terminate DACA, throwing into turmoil the lives of millions of Dreamers. Dreamers and their parents should have a roadmap to citizenship through legislative immigration reform. But in the meantime, Biden will remove the uncertainty for Dreamers by reinstating the DACA program, and he will explore all legal options to protect their families from inhumane separation.”
5. Rescind what has been termed the “Muslim Ban”
We anticipate that the program often referred to as “The Muslim Ban” will end on Day One.
In 2017, Donald Trump by executive order, banned nationals from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. The order faced several challenges in court, subsequent iterations, and eventually, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.
Biden states that “… anti-Muslim bias hurts our economy, betrays our values, and can serve as a powerful terrorist recruiting tool. Prohibiting Muslims from entering the country is morally wrong…”
6. Honor the promises made to service members to become permanent residents and reunite those who were deported under the Trump administration with their families in the U.S.
These men and women enlisted under a promise from the U.S. government that they would be eligible for a green card after their honorable service. Instead, many without legal status were actually deported during the Trump administration. We expect this to be addressed quickly, as Biden promises to:
“direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a parole process for veterans deported by the Trump Administration, to reunite them with their families and military colleagues in the U.S.”
7. Create a new visa category that allows cities and counties to petition for immigration that they need to support the growth in their cities.
This is perhaps one of the more innovative ideas in the Biden plan. We are looking forward to hearing the details and assisting local governments through the application process. It acknowledges that the need for foreign workers is different across the American landscape and varies by region and industry. This proposal also assists both rural and urban areas revitalize economic growth where it’s needed most. Biden’s web site explained:
“The disparity in economic growth between U.S. cities, and between rural communities and urban areas, is one of the great imbalances of today’s economy. Some cities and many rural communities struggle with shrinking populations, an erosion of economic opportunity, and local businesses that face unique challenges. Others simply struggle to attract a productive workforce and innovative entrepreneurs. As president, Biden will support a program to allow any county or municipal executive of a large or midsize county or city to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy, provided employers in those regions certify there are available jobs, and that there are no workers to fill them. Holders of these visas would be required to work and reside in the city or county that petitioned for them, and would be subject to the same certification protections as other employment-based immigrants.”
Joe Biden’s goal is to reform and modernize the immigration system while growing the economy and protecting American workers. How difficult that would be for him might depend, at least partially, on who controls the U.S. Senate. There are two remaining Senate runoff-races in Georgia that will likely determine the Senate’s willingness to make these needed changes.
Either way, we anticipate significant change for American families and businesses affected by immigration gridlock for the past two decades from a Joe Biden administration in Washington.