Guide to the 2021 US Citizenship Act

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President Biden proposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Here’s what you need to know.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 was introduced in Congress on February 18, by Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Linda Sanchez. This immigration bill is the same proposal President Joe Biden presented in January to reform our immigration system. This is the first major piece of immigration legislation to be introduced in Congress since 1996.

This proposal provides an eight-year path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. 

DACA recipients, immigrant farmworkers, and people from countries suffering from major natural disasters with Temporary Protective Status (TPS) will be placed in a three-year path to citizenship.

NOTICE: The U.S. Citizenship Act is only a proposed immigration bill. Congress needs to pass the bill and the President needs to sign it before the bill can become law. We will keep you updated on our website.

How could I become a citizen under the U.S. Citizenship Act?

To begin the road to citizenship, you will have to be present in the U.S. on January 1, 2021. These will be the steps to take:

STEP 1.  Apply for temporary legal status. 

STEP 2.  After 5 years, apply for a green card if you meet these requirements:

  1. Pass a criminal and national security background check
  2. Pay taxes

STEP 3.  After 3 years of being a green card holder, you can apply for citizenship if you:

  1. Pass additional background checks
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics

After completing these steps, you may become a U.S. citizen.

What if I am deported?

If you were deported on or after January 20, 2017, you might be able to apply under this bill. The Secretary of Homeland Security has to provide a waiver for you to apply. The waiver has to be for family unity, humanitarian reasons, or for the public interest. You must also meet the requirements listed below to qualify:

  1. You were present in the U.S. for three years without leaving the country;
  2. You did not re-enter the U.S. after January 1, 2021, unlawfully; and, 

After the U.S. Citizenship Act is passed by Congress, the Secretary of Homeland Security will provide more information about this process.

How do I sign up?

The U.S. Citizenship Act is only a proposal for now. It has not been approved by Congress and it has not been signed into law. 

The next step is for Congress to debate the bill. During the legislative process sections of the bill may be changed, removed, and/or added. Once Congress approves a final bill, then the President signs it and the bill becomes law.

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Will the U.S. Citizenship Act help me if I am waiting on a family-based petition?

Yes, the immigration bill aims to clear backlogs and increase per-country visas.

The immigration bill could eliminate what you may know as the “3 and 10-year bars.” These bars forced many families to separate while they waited for a visa. Under this bill, immigrants with an approved family petition can wait for their green card in the U.S.

The bill is also more inclusive of diverse families by eliminating discrimination of LGBTQ+ families and includes families in permanent partnerships. 

Here are other highlights of the bill:

  • Change all instances of “alien” in the country’s immigration laws to “noncitizen.”
  • A NO BAN Act – prohibits discrimination based on religion and limits future presidential authority on bans.
  • Provides for more immigration judges and support staff.
  • Increases access to legal counsel, particularly for children and other vulnerable groups.
  • Provides grants to community-based organizations for legal services.
  • Provides assistance for English classes, civics education, and workforce training.
  • Increases the refugee cap up to 125,000 from 15,000.
  • Eliminate the 1-year deadline to file an asylum claim and reduce the asylum application backlog. 
  • Increase protections for U visa, T visa, and VAWA applications. The cap for U visas is raised from 10,000 to 30,000.
  • Increase Diversity Visas from 55,000 to 80,000.
  • Expand protections for foreign nationals assisting U.S. troops.
  • Increase the number of available employment-based green cards. Eliminate per-country caps that have created a decades-long backlog for Indian immigrants
  • Create a heartland visa, allowing local communities that can’t fill jobs to request immigrants.
  • Provides dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorization and prevents children from “aging out.”
  • Creates a Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
  • Provides more special agents at the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate criminal and administrative misconduct. Requires the issuance of department-wide policies governing the use of force.
  • Fund more technology to screen people and cargo at the border, but no new physical barriers.
  • Increase sanctions and other penalties for human smuggling and trafficking organizations.
  • Provide support to Central American countries:
    • A $4 billion aid package for Central American countries to help address root causes of migration: extreme poverty and gang violence
    • Creates centers throughout Central America to register and process displaced persons for refugee resettlement in the U.S. or other partner countries.
    • Re-institutes the Central American Minors program to help children reunite with U.S. relatives.
    • Creates the Central American Family Reunification Parole Program to quickly unite families.

This is not everything that the bill contains. You can read the summary section-by-section of the immigration bill to learn more.

You can also stay informed about President Biden’s executive actions on immigration

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.