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Biden Unveils Plans Easing Path to Work for Undocumented Spouses and Dreamers

Joe biden speaks at a podium in front of american flags.

President Joe Biden is proposing an easier pathway to permanent residence and work authorization for certain undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens as well as a policy making Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children—eligible for temporary employment visas if they have a U.S. degree and a job offer.

Biden announced the measures June 18 at a White House event marking the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed some Dreamers to remain and work in the U.S.

The administration’s action is possibly the most sweeping relief program for undocumented immigrants since DACA was announced by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, and it is likely to be challenged in court, as DACA was, as an overreach of executive authority.

Spouses who qualify for the “parole-in-place” program will be able to apply for a green card within the U.S. using the adjustment-of-status process instead of having to depart the country and apply at a U.S consulate abroad, a common barrier for those without legal status who are married to U.S. citizens.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the application period for the program is expected to begin later this summer and is estimated to affect 500,000 spouses and 50,000 children under the age of 21.

The program will be available on a case-by-case basis to spouses who have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least 10 years as of June 17, 2024, and who have no disqualifying criminal history and no national security or public safety concerns.

The individuals covered by the policy change are already eligible for green cards because of their marital status, but they would now be able to apply from inside the U.S. instead of traveling overseas, which can cause disruption and create uncertainty about whether they would be authorized to re-enter the U.S.

The Biden administration also announced plans for a policy that would make Dreamers, including DACA recipients, eligible for temporary work visas such as H-1Bs, rather than just work authorization. This would apply to Dreamers who have both a degree from an accredited U.S. institution of higher education and an offer of employment from a U.S. employer related to their degree.

There are approximately 3.6 million Dreamers residing in the U.S., including about 530,000 who are protected by DACA.

“We will work with our partners at the State Department in implementing changes to the inadmissibility waiver process that will enable certain noncitizens who were educated in the United States, including DACA recipients, to access high-skilled labor visas for which they are qualified,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.   

The well-established work visas will offer stronger protection than the work permits currently granted by the DACA program, which is facing ongoing legal challenges and not accepting new applications.

Official details for both programs are expected to be outlined in an upcoming Federal Register notice.

“SHRM appreciates the Biden administration taking steps to address two long-term unresolved issues in the U.S. workplace immigration system,” said Emily M. Dickens, SHRM chief of staff and head of government affairs. “SHRM research found that 57 percent of organizations reported that they would benefit from an increase in available and legally authorized workers on visas, with medium and large employers agreeing at higher levels. The uncertainty in the U.S. workplace immigration system burdens both workers and employers, including HR professionals who are dedicated to recruiting, retaining, reskilling, and upskilling talent to meet the needs of an ever-evolving workforce.”

Christopher Kayes, professor of management and chair of the management department at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C., said that “most employers will applaud the decision to find legal pathways to citizenship because this will increase the flow of workers to fill millions of job openings.”

Kayes added that it is widely accepted that increasing immigration will have a positive impact on the economy. He said: “Further, while Europe and other countries are moving toward greater restrictions on immigration, the U.S. has built a thriving economy by increasing its workforce. The decision to implement a ‘DACA’-like program will increase U.S. competitiveness.”


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