Happy International Women’s Day, readers! Here’s hope for deserving immigrants
By Licelle Cobrador, Esq.*
This could be a momentous immigration reform. From expunging of the word “alien” and replacing it with the word “noncitizen” – to providing paths to citizenship for certain undocumented individuals, repealing of the three-and ten-year bars, smarter border management, removal of the one-year asylum filing deadline, increase of protections for U, T and VAWA visa applicants, and the streamlining of employment-based programs.
New York – The proposed comprehensive immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 (“U.S. Citizenship Act”), has been transmitted to Congress in order to “restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.” This legislation aims for the realization of President Joseph Biden’s campaign promises. If successful, it would be the most momentous immigration reform since the Reagan administration’s Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986.
On February 18, 2021, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) formally introduced the immigration overhaul. This will likely be one of the most challenging bills yet. It expunges the word “alien” from the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) and replaces it with the word “noncitizen” in each place it appears. Controversial portions include pathways to citizenship for certain undocumented individuals (there are roughly 11 million in total–and 400,000 Filipinos), repeal of the three-and ten-year bars, smarter border controls and management, removal of the one-year asylum filing deadline, increase of protections for U, T and VAWA visa applicants, and the streamlining of employment-based programs for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. These changes could impact the ability of U.S. employers to recruit and retain foreign talent.
Pathways to Citizenship
Those physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021 who pass the criminal and security background checks and meet the requirements could apply for temporary legal status. They will have the ability to apply for green cards after five years and U.S. citizenship in three more years, assuming they continue to satisfy the prerequisites.
In lieu of waiting for visa priority dates to become current, legal permanent residents’ spouses and children will be reclassified as “immediate relatives.” As a result, immigrant visa numbers will become immediately available for several applicants eagerly waiting for many years in order to complete the green card process. The bill reforms the family-based immigration system by clearing backlogs, recapturing unused visas, increasing per country visa caps and repealing the three –and ten-year bars for overstaying noncitizens who left America after 180 days or 365 days /one year. Immigrants with approved family-sponsored petitions will be allowed to join their family in the U.S. on a temporary basis while they wait for green cards to be available. As it stands, petitioned Filipino married sons and daughters as well as siblings of U.S. citizens have to wait more than nineteen years for their immigrant visa availability.
Provisions of the U.S. Citizenship Act that could impact business immigration are as follows: Clearing the employment-based visa backlog, recapturing unused green card numbers, increasing the number of green card immigrant visa issued per fiscal year from 140,000 to 170,000, eliminating per-country visa caps, making it easier for graduates of STEM degrees to stay in the U.S., and giving Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivizing higher wages for nonimmigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition.
Support Vulnerable Populations
Aside from providing funding to reduce asylum application backlogs, the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims will be abandoned. An applicant must ordinarily file an asylum application within one year after arriving in the United States. However, the government may still consider the belated application if the applicant establishes changed circumstances that materially affect eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances directly related to the delay in filing.
The U.S. Citizenship Act will enhance protections for individuals applying for T visas (victims of human trafficking), U visas (victims of crimes) and protection under VAWA. It will also raise the cap on U visas from 10,000 to 30,000.
Instrumental to any immigration policy are smart and responsive border controls and management. The legislation will allocate additional funding for the DHS Secretary to develop and implement a plan to deploy technology and expedite screening and enhance their ability to identify narcotics and other contraband at ports of entry. Moreover, it will authorize and provide funding for DHS, in coordination with Department of Health and Human Services as well as nongovernmental experts, to develop guidelines and protocols for standards of care for individuals, families and children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
In order to become law, the bill must first pass the House of Representative and the Senate before President Biden signs it. Given the all-encompassing changes anticipated in the bill, Senate Democrats will face herculean challenges in passing the bill in its current form. Previous attempts to reform the American immigration system have failed for two decades.
The bill requires votes from Republican Senators to move forward and most of them oppose providing legal status for undocumented individuals, which they disparage as blanket amnesty. Most probably, it won’t retain its current form and undergo amendments. We must continue to monitor its developments. #
This column serves primarily as a guide. It aims to provide general information on immigration law. The information provided is for general guidance and reference purposes only and it is not intended to serve as, nor can it be relied upon, as legal advice to address any specific situation. Those with specific questions are strongly encouraged to contact an immigration attorney.)
*About the author:
Born in Manila, Licelle Cobrador has over 10 years of experience in immigration and nationality law. Prior to establishing her own firm, Cobrador & Associates, PLLC, Licelle was an associate at a boutique immigration firm in Manhattan and a leading firm in Manila.
Licelle received her B.A. from the University of the Philippines, Manila (Cum Laude, Top 20 out of 267). After earning her J.D. from Ateneo de Manila University, she was admitted to practice law in the Philippines. She completed her LL.M at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law on a Dean’s Merit Scholarship and was admitted to practice in New York.
Licelle currently serves as Vice President and Executive Director of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund/ FALDEF and as Volunteer Attorney at the Migrant Center of New York. She is a past co-chair of the Cardozo Law Masters Alumni Community. She is also a member of the Filipino American Lawyers Association of New York/ FALA New York and the National Filipino American Lawyers Association/ NFALA.
Licelle has been selected as TimeIsNow’s Global Filipino Trailblazer. She is recognized as one of Women Today’s Women on the Front Rank, Cardozo Life Magazine’s Movers & Shakers and Cardozo Law’s Outstanding Alumni and has been published in Delaware Law.
Licelle is a frequent national and international speaker on U.S. Immigration Law. #