What’s in the Proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021?

What’s in the Proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021?

Introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 1177, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is an unprecedented piece of immigration legislation. If passed, it would create a pathway to U.S. citizenship for DACA recipients, H-2A farmworkers, TPS holders, and nearly 11 million people living in the U.S. without documentation.

At 353 pages long, though, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is a bit of a tall order. While it’s possible for several key parts to survive scrutiny and be signed into law, others may be tabled for legislation in the future. Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects of this bill and how immigrants living with or without documentation can be affected.

Proposed Changes to Citizenship Requirements

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, in its current state, proposes a number of changes to how one can become a U.S. citizen.

Here are some of those proposed changes:

  • Reducing Green Card holders’ residency requirement from five years to three years
  • Waiving English and civics/history requirements for those who graduated high school after completing grades 9-12 in the U.S.
  • Exempting people 65 years of age or older from English and civics/history requirements if they were a Green Card holder for at least five years
  • Exempting people 60 years of age or older from English and civic/history requirements if they were a Green Card holder for at least 10 years
  • Waiving civic/history tests for people more than 60 years old on a case-by-case basis
  • Making a false claim of U.S. citizenship when someone was younger than 21 would no longer be a ground for inadmissibility or removal

Proposed Changes to Family-Based Immigration

Several proposed changes to family-based changes could include ending the policy of separating foreign relatives of U.S. citizens or Green Card holders and making them wait years abroad for their priority dates to occur.

Here are other proposed family-based immigration changes:

  • Beneficiaries of approved family-based visas can join family members and work within the U.S. with a V visa status as they wait for their priority dates to occur
  • Children and spouses no longer count against Green Card limits
  • Unused family-based Green Cards issued between 1992 and 2020 would be recaptured
  • The maximum number of family-based Green Cards would be dramatically raised
  • If someone has an approved visa petition and has waited more than 10 years for their priority date to become current, they would not be subject to Green Card limits and could apply for one immediately
  • Beginning on Oct. 1, 2021, the family-based per-country quotas would be raised from 7 percent to 21 percent
  • “Permanent partners” can sponsor and receive immigration benefits if they are not permitted to marry in their countries

Child Status Protection Act

Within the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 are a number of provisions that could uniquely protect child immigrants:

  • Children with H-4 status could no longer “age out” of this status but instead have their ages “frozen” on the date their PERM application was filed with the DOL. If no PERM application was needed, then on the date that USCIS received the visa petition.
  • Ages of K-2 children are frozen on the date that a fiancé petition is filed.
  • A child could retain their priority date of the original EB or FB petition if they would otherwise age out while waiting for their parents’ priority dates to occur and the parents sponsor them on their Green Cards.

Proposed Changes for EB Green Cards

There are several important proposed changes for how employment-based Green Cards would be administered in the future:

  • The annual number of EB-category Green Cards issued per year would increase to 170,000 from 140,000. The additional 30,000 Green Cards are specifically for EB-3 unskilled worker visas.
  • Numerical limits would no longer apply to someone with an approved visa application who has waited more than 10 years for their priority date. Such individuals could apply for a Green Card immediately.
  • Numerical exemption limits would apply to people who hold Ph.D. degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) from U.S. universities.
  • An estimated number of 200,000 unused employment-based Green Cards issued between 1992 and 2020 would be recaptured.
  • Spouses and children no longer count against Green Card numerical limits.
  • On Oct. 21, 2021, the 7 percent per-country quote will be eliminated.
  • The Department of Homeland Security could be authorized to establish a five-year program to allow country or municipal executives to request 10,000 immigrant visas per year to bolster their region’s economic development initiatives. Employers in these regions must affirm that there are jobs in these areas but no U.S. workers who can fill them.

Proposed Changes to Temporary Visas

Under several changes proposed in the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, foreign students would have an easier time obtaining Green Cards by not having to undergo the H-1B visa lottery.

Other important proposed changes include the following:

  • The departments of Homeland Security and Labor would each be granted authorization to issue regulations that prioritize how H1B visa applicants are selected based upon the wages offered by employers.
  • Work authorization would be granted to H-4 spouses and children.
  • F-1 student visas would be reclassified as “dual intent” visas. F-1 students with OPT and in the Green Card process could also renew their work authorizations in one-year increments if they have a pending PERM application filed before one year prior to the expiration of their F-1 status – or if their I-140 is pending or approved.
  • If a student immigrant with an F-1, H-1B, L-1, or O-1 status has a PERM application pending for longer than one year or has a pending I-140 pending or approved, the student immigrant could extend their status in one-year increments
  • If someone witnessed or was material to a bona fide workplace abuse claim and is helping law enforcement, they could qualify for a U visa.
  • The annual cap on U visas would be extended from 10,000 to 30,000.
  • Immigrants would be protected when they report unfair employment practices.

Other Provisions Proposed by the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021

The following are other important changes to immigration law that Congress is considering:

  • Increasing the number of Green Cards in the Diversity Visa Lottery from 55,000 to 80,000.
  • Eliminating the three-year and 10-year unlawful presence bars.
  • Abolishing the one-year deadline to apply for asylum in the U.S.
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