U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021

On February 18, 2021, Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA) introduced in the House H.R.1177, a bill To provide an earned path to citizenship, to address the root causes of migration and responsibly manage the southern border, and to reform the immigrant visa system, and for other purposes. The short title of the bill is the U.S. Citizenship Act. On February 22, 2021, Senator Robert "Bob" Menendez (D-NJ) introduced an identical bill in the Senate, S.348.

The bills include proposals that have earned bipartisan support in the past, such as a permanent solution for Dreamers, and several provisions of particular interest to international educators, including language that extends dual intent to F-1 students at U.S. higher education institutions, and enables F-1 students to apply for green cards without losing their ability to continue extend F status, and exempting STEM Ph.D. U.S. graduates from the annual green card and per country caps (effectively offering a direct path to green card status).

The bills have the support of the Biden Administration. A January 20, 2021 White House Fact Sheet stated that, "President Biden is sending a bill to Congress on day one to restore humanity and American values to our immigration system." According to the White House Fact Sheet, the U.S. Citizenship Act (USCA) will:

  • Create an earned roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals. "The bill allows undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes. Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. After three years, all green card holders who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens. Applicants must be physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may waive the presence requirement for those deported on or after January 20, 2017 who were physically present for at least three years prior to removal for family unity and other humanitarian purposes. Lastly, the bill further recognizes America as a nation of immigrants by changing the word "alien" to "noncitizen" in our immigration laws."
  • Keep families together
  • Embrace diversity. "The bill includes the NO BAN Act that prohibits discrimination based on religion and limits presidential authority to issue future bans. The bill also increases Diversity Visas to 80,000 from 55,000."
  • Promote immigrant and refugee integration and citizenship
  • Grow our economy: "This bill clears employment-based visa backlogs, recaptures unused visas, reduces lengthy wait times, and eliminates per-country visa caps. The bill makes it easier for graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the United States; improves access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors; and eliminates other unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards. The bill provides dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorization, and children are prevented from "aging out" of the system. The bill also creates a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development, gives DHS the authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivizes higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition with American workers."
  • Protect workers from exploitation and improve the employment verification process. "The bill requires that DHS and the Department of Labor establish a commission involving labor, employer, and civil rights organizations to make recommendations for improving the employment verification process..."
  • Supplement existing border resources with technology and infrastructure
  • Manage the border and protect border communities
  • Crack down on criminal organizations
  • Address root causes of migration
  • Improve the immigration courts and protect vulnerable individuals
  • Support asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations

In addition, Section 3 of the bill would replace the term "alien" in the Immigration and Nationality Act with the term "noncitizen."