Biden’s New U.S. Citizenship Initiative, America’s Children Act of 2021, and New U.S. Passport Changes

Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses President Biden’s new plan to make the citizenship application process more accessible and available to more people: what’s happened so far and what plans does the Biden administration have for the future?

Keep on watching for all the details. In addition, please stay tuned for information about big changes coming soon to the United States passport application process, including a new gender option for applicants who are gender non-conforming, and information about a new bill introduced last week called, America’s CHILDREN Act that would open a pathway for permanent residence for certain individuals who came to the United States as children but overstayed their length of authorized stay.


Overview


Biden’s Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization

The Biden administration is launching a nationwide campaign initiative to encourage long time lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to become U.S. Citizens. These efforts stem from President Biden’s February 2nd Executive Order “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” A hallmark of this executive order is to “welcome strategies that promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship.” As part of these efforts, the Biden administration is now working closely with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to unveil a new strategy that will encourage an estimated 9 million green card holders living in the United States to apply for U.S. Citizenship. These unprecedented efforts will target those permanent residents who have the ability to naturalize.

How will this be done?

The Biden administration will be strategizing with USCIS to determine the best ways to reach this massive pool of permanent residents by holding naturalization ceremonies at national parks to raise awareness, partnering with the US Postal Service to display promotional posters at Postal Service facilities about becoming a US citizen, and engaging with the Department of Veterans Affairs and veteran service organizations to find ways to educate service members and veterans on citizenship.

What are some of the things the Biden administration has already accomplished since its February 2nd Executive Order?

  • Starting March 1, 2021, in line with the Executive Order “Restoring Faith…” the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) scrapped former President Trump’s revised 2020 naturalization civics examination and restored the previous 2008 version of the civics test. The 2008 civics test requires an applicant to answer 6 questions correctly out of 10 questions to pass the test.
  • In late May 2021, new policy changes were introduced by USCIS allowing people outside of the United States engaging in religious duties, to preserve their physical presence for naturalization purposes
  • In addition, in May 2021, a new policy decision was implemented allowing veterans of the United States Armed Forces residing overseas to apply for U.S. Citizenship
  • In early June, the Biden administration announced a nationwide $10 million fund to be allocated to help permanent residents prepare for their citizenship applications
  • USCIS has used its discretionary authority to allow video interviews specifically for naturalization cases. This is an unprecedented move by the agency to further encourage permanent residents to become U.S. Citizens

Looking forward to the future, the lengthy processing time for the N-400 application for naturalization is expected to continue due to the serious backlogs at USCIS.


Positive Changes to the U.S. Passport System for the LGBTQI Community


The State Department recently announced changes to the agency’s policies on gender as it relates to U.S. Passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Department would take further steps to ensure the fair treatment of LGBTQI U.S. Citizens regardless of their gender or sex, by updating procedures for the issuance of U.S. Passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad.

Immediately, applicants will be allowed to self-select their gender as “M” or “F” and will no longer be required to provide medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents. In addition, the Department will begin adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons when applying for a U.S. passport or Consular Report of Birth Abroad. The Department will also work with interagency partners to ensure that the process to apply for a passport is a smooth and enjoyable experience for gender non-confirming applicants.


America’s CHILDREN Act: a new bill creating a pathway to citizenship


On July 1, 2021, the House of Representatives, introduced a new bill called, America’s CHILDREN Act, that proposes creating a pathway to citizenship for certain children who initially came to the United States as minors in legal, temporary statuses (such as F-2 visa or H-4 dependent visa) and later fell out of status due to overstay or aging out. Under the new bill, these children would receive the opportunity to apply for permanent residence.

New path to citizenship for documented Dreamers

The bill would create a new uncapped category allowing DACA recipients to apply for legal permanent residence as long as the DACA holders can demonstrate that he or she (1) has spent at least 4 years as a dependent of any work visa holder (E, H, I, J, L, O, P, or TN) (2) has resided legally in the United States for not less than 10 years, and (3) has graduated from a U.S. university.

The bill would end aging out of green card eligibility

In determining whether a child qualifies as a “child” for purposes of green card eligibility, the America’s CHILDREN Act would require the government to use the age of a dependent child on the date that the employer filed a petition for their parent (Form I-140) or filed a labor certification application for their parent, depending on which happened earlier. This would mean that going forward, no child who reaches the age of 21 while waiting for a green card with their parents would lose eligibility under their parents’ application. This provision also has a “look-back” provision allowing dependent applications that were denied to be reopened if they would have qualified had these rules been in effect.

This provision would be most beneficial to those affected by the Child Status Protection Act that determines whether a child counts as a “minor” for green card eligibility using the “final action date” (i.e., when the green card can be approved) rather than the “date for filing” (when the green card can be filed).

America’s CHILDREN Act would also end the second component of “aging out” for those in the green card backlog by authorizing extension of nonimmigrant (i.e. temporary) status for dependents of work visa holders with a properly filed pending or approved immigrant petition past their 21st birthdays.

Authorizes employment authorization to backlogged dependent children also known as work permits

The America’s CHILDREN Act would also authorize children in the green card backlog to work in the United States. Such children would not need to file Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS as normally required. Instead, the bill proposes to extend employment authorization to such children without the need for an employment authorization document (EAD) issues by USCIS due to the great delays and backlogs associated with the current processing of EAD applications.

Retains priority dates for aged out dependents

Finally, the bill will retain priority dates for aged out children to claim their place in line. The bill clarifies that under the Child Status Protection Act any beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition may use the earliest priority date that they have ever had.

The Future of the Bill

While the future of the bill is not at all certain, given that it still needs the support of the Senate and President to become law, we are hopeful that Congressional Republicans will remain open to passing this bill. We will be following the progress of the bill and will provide any updates right here on our blog.


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Biden’s New U.S. Citizenship Initiative, America’s Children Act of 2021, and New U.S. Passport Changes