• Filip Kobylecki

US Citizenship Act of 2021 Introduced In Senate & House

The full text of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 was shared by Senator Menendez of New Jersey on February 18, 2021. This Bill, which is expected to be introduced in the Senate at some point during the week of February 22, presents a wide-ranging set of reforms to the U.S. immigration system. If passed, this Bill will overturn many established realities of U.S. immigration law and policy, providing many undocumented individuals with a pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship. Further, the Bill proposes to increase the cap on Diversity Visas, streamline the issuance of family and employment based visa numbers, and reform the U.S. immigration court system. For more information about the sweeping policies and reversals contained in this Bill, please see the following White House Fact Sheet.

At the core of this Bill is the creation of a new pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for previously undocumented individuals. This pathway would allow certain DACA recipients, individuals on Temporary Protected Status, and farmworkers to apply for a new status, that of lawful prospective immigrant, at which point they can apply for lawful permanent residency after 5 years and citizenship after an additional 3 years of presence in the United States. This Section of the Citizenship Act addresses many of the challenges faced by certain noncitizens without status, who face deportation and lengthy bars from the United States under the current set of laws.

The Bill further proposes to strike all references to prospective non-immigrants/immigrants as "aliens" to that of "noncitizens", a symbolic move that could serve to lessen negative rhetoric against such individuals seeking to live and prosper in the United States. Finally, the Bill seeks to formalize past legislative proposals by Senators Durbin and Lee in eliminating employment-based per country levels and addressing visa backlogs, a provision which could significantly impact waiting times for all prospective immigrants, notably those individuals from India and China currently subject to waiting periods of 5 years or more.

On the whole, this Bill presents a series of steps in the right direction of reforming the U.S. immigration system and addressing issues from the alienation of undocumented immigrants to the significant employment based visa backlog. However, it should be said that this Bill has many hurdles to clear before it becomes law. As a standalone Bill, it could find itself subject to a Senate filibuster, requiring at least 10 Senators from the Republican party to support its passage in order to become law. While some Republican Senators, such as the aforementioned Lee, support provisions of this Bill, it is unlikely that such a sweeping change to U.S. immigration laws, which notably includes a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants, will be amenable to enough Senators to pass into law.

Our take is that this Bill is a starting point and that we may see some of its provisions adopted in other bipartisan actions taken by the Senate. For example, eliminating the employment based per country levels is an action that has much bipartisan support, as evidenced by the 15 Republican cosponsors listed on the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019. It will still take many months, if not years, of this Administration before such a radical shift in U.S. immigration policy becomes the law. Nevertheless, it is good to see progressive, common sense reforms being introduced. The last major piece of U.S. immigration legislation was passed in 1986 - it is fair to say that updates are needed.