US Immigration Changes in 2021
I’m Andres Mejer, and I’m an immigration attorney. Recently we’ve talked about amnesty, public charge, lifting travel bans, increasing visa numbers, DACA approvals, as well as great news for Cubans, Venezuelans, and asylum seekers. In this article, we’ll tie that all together and explain what it means for you and your immigration journey in 2021.
Biden’s First Week in Office
First, let’s talk about the things that President Biden has done for immigration in his first few weeks in office.
DACA Will Remain in Place
We’ve recently talked about how Chad Wolf resigned as the acting head of DHS and then tried to pass his policies, one of which was to end DACA, in a different position within DHS.
President Biden has said that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA will remain in place. This is good news for immigrants in the US, because it means you can apply for Advanced Parole if you have DACA, and that might help you get a legal entry to the US and apply for a legal status.
Deportations Were Briefly Paused
Deportations were paused for 100 days, with some exceptions. There was a lawsuit filed against this in Texas, claiming that it would cause irreparable harm to Texas. The Judge said he thought it would cause harm, so he issued a nationwide injunction on 26 January for two weeks.
This means that deportations can continue. This is an interesting set of circumstances and we’ll be following it as it develops. If you have a deportation order or order of removal, we highly advise you to speak with a qualified immigration attorney to find out how you can avoid getting deported.
Revoked Travel Bans & Entry to the US
Travel bans barring entry for individuals from Muslim and African countries were revoked. But there have also been more restrictions on travel into the US due to COVID, so be aware that there is still limited entry into the US.
On the other hand, Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) was extended for Liberian nationals until June 30, 2022. Enrollment in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP or Stay in Mexico) were also suspended. Despite that, there’s no news on how their entry will be handled – especially with COVID limiting entry.
However, we can rest assured now that President Biden has issued a review of all DHS policies and shifted the focus of ICE from enforcement back to protection.
Family Reunification & Public Charge Task Force
January 29th was the day for President Biden to focus on immigration changes. He created task forces to review family reunification and public charge. His goal, he said, is to remove barriers and restore trust in the legal immigration system, including the naturalization process.
At Andres Mejer Law, we have been asked over and over about the family travel ban. At the time of writing, nothing has changed and the family ban was still in place. However, this may change, and if it does, we will certainly update you.
COVID19 Travel Ban
It’s important to talk a little bit more about the COVID travel ban that was issued by President Biden on January 25, 2021 which extends indefinitely.
This ban affects travelers flying in from many countries. For example, those flying from China and Iran were already prohibited from entering the US. The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens who were physically present within the Schengen Area (this includes 26 European countries), the United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), the Republic of Ireland, the Federative Republic of Brazil, and the Republic of South Africa during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States, is suspended and limited.
Who is excluded from the suspension?
It’s important to note that certain people are excluded from the travel ban and are allowed to enter the US even from those countries. These include:
- Green card holders.
- Any non-citizen national of the US.
- Any non-citizen who is the spouse of a green card holder or US citizen.
- Any non-citizen who is the parents of a green card holder or USC who is under 21 and unmarried.
- Any non-citizen who is the sibling of a US citizen or green card holder as long as the noncitizen is unmarried and under 21;
- Any noncitizen who is a child, foster child or ward of a USC or green card holder.
- Any noncitizen traveling as requested by the US government to help with COVID.
- Any noncitizen with a C-1 (transit visa through the US), D (crew member of commercial vessel), or C-1/D visa (combination of both who have to board a ship or an airplane as crew members but have to travel through the US to get to the ship);
- Any noncitizen seeking entry under a number of visas (A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3, E-1, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, and certain NATO visas);
- Noncitizen armed forces members or non-citizens who are spouses or children armed force members;
- And others who may serve a national interest by entering the US.
Note that this ban does not apply to land crossings.
The CDC started requiring COVID testing of people flying into the US internationally starting on January 26, 2021, and all passengers 2 years and older must wear masks on all airplanes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles.
More Countries May Be Added to the Travel Ban
With the COVID variants mutating, we may see more countries added to this list before we see it be reduced or go away. There are two reasons.
We now know that the Trump administration had a terrible plan for combatting COVID.
They did not fund the states enough to be able to handle their own distribution and they did not create a federal roll out of distribution. They also did not order enough of the vaccine, so we are now experiencing shortages.
With the virus mutating, it’s not clear whether the current vaccines are able to protect us. Scientists are worried it may be like the flu shot, where they can only target some of the strains of the flu each year. If we allow people in from anywhere and the strains mutate and vaccines are not effective against it, we are starting over again with the COVID problem.
5 Biggest Changes to Immigration in the US
At the beginning of 2020, we did not know COVID would hit the world so hard. We still do not know how it will continue to impact all of our lives in the future.
Most scientists are saying that we may need to continue to wear masks and socially distance through mid-2022, or longer, as strains change, and the world gets vaccinated. That means that people will still be getting sick and dying, and that will impact courts, USCIS and other government offices.
But all I do think things will improve for immigrants and US immigration in 2021.
Remember, Trump signed over 400 executive actions to stop immigration to the US. The number of immigrant visas granted in the beginning of 2020 dropped by 46%. Before COVID, green card applications fell by 17% during the Trump years.
#1 Opening of Government Offices
The number one big change I think that we will see is the opening of government offices including embassies and consulates world-wide.
Many people have shared with us that in their country everything is open except for the consulates. Many believe this was due to the Trump administration deliberately encouraging them to remain closed. If you cannot get an interview you can’t get into the US, right? We anticipate that the State Department will be issuing a statement that normal processing will resume for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
USCIS used to have field offices throughout the world, but these closed in March 2020. At that time, the administration said that the consulates and State Department employees would take over doing the work that these offices had done. Clearly, this was another way to slow or stop immigration.
Since President Biden has said, and has shown in the past, that he supports increasing legal immigration, we think he will reopen these offices, in addition to having all the consulates re-open.
We believe that this will be one of the changes that he makes quickly. We also think relations will improve with many countries and get worse with others.
The United States hasn’t had a very good global reputation while Trump was in office. In fact, some of the immigration policies such as family separations caused the US to be found guilty of human rights violations. But there are also countries that have committed atrocities, like Russia, that seemed to get a free pass by Trump.
That will soon end. Biden has already started telling all foreign leaders what is expected of them in terms of ethical and humanitarian behavior while he is in office.
Some US citizens do not like the fact that President Biden is a career politician. What that means to me is that he knows how to treat people fairly and how to be diplomatic, but he also knows how to be firm and achieve the goals he has in unifying and strengthening the US.
We can see by the appointments he has already made throughout government that he knows people who are smart and savvy to government workings that will do their best to have the US move back to functioning and being the world power it can be.
Remember how Trump had entered into agreements with several countries to keep asylum seekers in those countries while their applications were processed. Biden may end those agreements and find a way, as has happened in the past, for asylum seekers to enter the US during their processing.
Whenever I say this we get many comments from people on our channels saying that shouldn’t happen, they need to stay in their country. We disagree. This is America and we are for legal immigration for everyone.
#2 US Immigration Processing Will Speed Up
USCIS looks like it may be trying to move faster. We’ve already shared how some biometric appointments will be waived. In addition, they have also said they are going to waive interviews for some applicants.
We expect that many resources will be shifted to speeding up the process while President Biden tries to get effective immigration reform going through Congress.
A lot of money was put into deportation proceedings, ICE enforcement and building the wall. We think that this money will be reallocated to help employ more USCIS workers and to get more judges to reduce immigration court case loads.
This administration has said they plan to hire more immigration judges. We also hope that President Biden will remove the restrictions from immigration judges to help make them more independent and able to use their discretion on cases rather than having to meet quotas of denials.
President Biden has said his goal is to reduce the time to get citizenship by half from 13 to 8 years.
With this being a priority for this administration, we want to remind everyone that the sooner you get your application in, the better for you. When you send in your immigration benefit application, it is like you are holding a place in line. USCIS processes applications in the order they are received. Only a very limited number of applications allow for premium (quicker) processing. Most of the time, this is only for employment-based applications, not family-based.
So, the best way to get your application through more quickly is to get to the head of the line and have an attorney submit it for you, so that it is complete and has a strong legal argument supporting you.
#3 Public Charge Will Go Away
We know that President Biden is not a fan of this policy. Look, we all agree that legal immigration is the best way to enter the US. But we do not need a wealth requirement like Public Charge was.
As we have explained over and over, it has long been a policy of the US that immigrants who come here must be able to support themselves. That being said, there is a part of the public charge that not many people seem to talk about that’s still going forward as a requirement that could have a far-reaching impact on many applicants.
Many visa applicants must now have or show they can purchase health insurance before being approved. This is another way to end immigration.
The requirements for health insurance are very high and almost impossible to obtain before coming to the US and then even harder when you get here if you don’t have a social security number. We hope that President Biden freezes this requirement, or makes it less financially restrictive if they plan to keep it in place.
None of us want to travel and get sick, right? And no one – whether we are living here in the US or in another country – want people coming to our country and going to the hospital. That is happening more and more with COVID. So, what I think should happen is we figure out a way that all of us can be healthy, safe, and get the care we need.
#4 Security for DACA holders and TPS holders
While we want to say DACA holders will be able to apply for their green cards by the end of 2021, we don’t think it will happen that fast.
One reason is that many people, especially Republicans, are very anti-immigrants. Even when we post our videos, immigrants and citizens alike post hateful comments about how “illegals” should not be allowed to get a status.
Remember, most of the people here without a status are working and paying taxes and contributing positively to the US economy and way of life.
President Biden has said that he would love to provide a legal status for DACA holders, and that he will review TPS status and try to establish a pathway to citizenship for them.
I’d like to see President Biden put a plan into place that follows the Administration Procedures Act for DACA, which neither Trump or Obama did, so that those who are eligible for it aren’t in fear every time there’s a court case that the Judge decides to get rid of it entirely.
I’d also like to see it extended as right now it only covers people who came here in 2007 and since that time, we know others have been brought here as children and would like to obtain a legal status.
President Biden voted for bills such to give DREAMers and others a legal status as a senator. Vice President Harris has promised automatic green cards for DACA holders. While we think that we’ll see some improvement in what’s already in place, it isn’t clear if that will be through Executive action or Congress passing laws.
#5 Immigration Reform
Speeding up processing times, taking away Public Charge, reviewing ICE and DHS processes, and finding a way for DACA holders and TPS recipients to obtain a legal status are all parts of reforming the US immigration system.
Biden has also said he wants to increase visa numbers, recapture unused visas, eliminate the 3 and 10 year bars, and reunite families. Based on the rhetoric coming from the Republicans in Congress, it seems unlikely that what President Biden is proposing will pass – at least in whole.
He has also said that he does not need a bill that includes every goal to go through, and that he’s happy if parts of it are passed. So that may be how the goal is met, if he can get parts passed that help the most people while upsetting the least.
One of the biggest parts that he has suggested is a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented aliens in the US currently. This is only for those who were in the US before January 1, 2021.
Under this plan, DACA, farmworkers, and a few other groups would be eligible to apply for a green card immediately. In three years, if they are paying taxes and pass a background check, they can apply to become citizens.
Others, who are currently in the US without a legal status, will need to meet certain criteria for 5 years before they can apply for a green card. After being green card holders for three years, they can apply for citizenship.
What does all this mean for you and your immigration journey?
For the most part, we can say that these immigration changes are good news. However, we also agree that probably not everything Biden has suggested to change will be changed.
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s important to get in line, meaning get your application in as soon as possible. If you’re considering applying for an immigration benefit, do not put it off any longer.
If you have something in your past that makes you worried that you will not be approved, get it taken care of. Talk to a skilled immigration attorney and have them look at your background, like we do in our law firm, to help you determine your next best steps.
If you have had some problems with the law since getting your green card, there may still be hope for your immigration case. Call us today at 888-695-6169 to schedule an appointment with our New Jersey immigration attorney and see if we can help you.