Joe Biden’s much anticipated US immigration bill was presented to Congress recently, with the White House pushing for a string of reforms. Among some of the proposals are plans to eliminate US visa backlogs and increase the per country quota for green cards. The bill was introduced by Senator Bob Menendez and representative Linda Sanchez.
The bill has been welcomed, particularly among the Indian community in the US, with thousands of Indian nationals currently living in America forced to wait decades for a green card.
According to reports, the bill contains provisions to make the maximum wait for a US green card 10 years, while increasing the per country cap for green cards from 7 per cent to 20 per cent. Meanwhile, there are measures included that would allow dependents to work in the US and a pathway way to citizenship for those under the DACA program.
H1B spouses and children
Should the bill become law, the spouses and children of H1B visa holders would be allowed to work, while an automatic extension of their work permit would be applied if processing exceeds 12 months.
Meanwhile, automatic extensions will also be granted to international students in the US under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program should processing exceed one-year.
The provisions featured in the bill are a welcome relief for Indian nationals who account for the majority of H1B visas, H4 visas and OPT visas issued to foreign nationals. In the 2020 fiscal year, 67,000 H4 visas were issued, with 57,000 granted to citizens of India.
Meanwhile, according to official government data published in 2019, the number of Indian students in the US exceeded 200,000 for the first time. Additionally, of the 85,000 H1B visas issued every year, the majority go to Indians.
In an effort to entice more overseas talent to the US, the Biden administration has exempted those with doctoral degrees (PhDs) from cap petitions.
Regional economic development immigrant visa pilot programme
If the bill is passed, a regional economic development immigrant visa pilot program will be rolled out. This would allow nearly 10,000 immigrants into the US who are considered ‘essential for the economic development of the US towns and cities in which they work.’
However, few details of the scheme have been announced, with no clarity on how the Biden administration intends to implement it.
Despite optimism among immigrants and advocacy groups, the bill faces an uphill challenge in Congress, which is narrowly divided and where Nancy Pelosi has just a five-vote margin and Senate Democrats don’t have the 60 Democratic votes needed to pass the bill with just the Democratic party’s support.
One Biden administration official said: “He was in the Senate for 36 years, and he is the first to tell you the legislative process can look different on the other end than where it starts. However, he is willing to work with Congress.”
According to Biden administration officials, the best path forward and plans to either pass one bill or separate it into multiple parts will be up to Congress.
Senator Bob Menendez said: “We have a President and an administration that is willing to put political muscle behind making sure that we can get this across the finish line.”
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