Immigration Policy Changes Joe Biden Made On The First Day Of His Presidency


On January 20, 2021, the day Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States, he introduced The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a set of measures designed to reform the immigration policies carried out under President Donald Trump’s administration. The proposal was sent to the Congress for approval, but as of January 28, 2021, it still has not been introduced as a bill, but the Act’s provisions indicate that Biden’s administration is set to carry out much more welcoming immigration policies. It is not clear If the bill will pass congressional approval in its original or amended form, but here we present some of the key provisions introduced in the initial draft. 

  • The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 proposes the long-awaited path to legalization for some 11 million undocumented immigrants. According to the proposal, undocumented foreign nationals, who entered and stayed in the U.S. as of January 1, 2021, are eligible for applying for Temporary Protection Status (TPS), which will allow them to apply for a green card after five years, and, in three more years, after passing security checks, paying taxes, and demonstrating knowledge of U.S. Civics and English proficiency, they might become naturalized U.S. citizens. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and TPS recipients, who have obtained the status fleeing from armed conflicts and natural disasters, will also be able to immediately apply for a green card and become naturalized in three more years after passing the required tests and security clearance. 
  • The bill proposes changing the current employment-based immigration by eliminating per-country caps, clearing visa application backlog, and reducing waiting periods. The bill would allow more opportunities for H-1B visa holders’ dependents to obtain employment authorizations, and children of employment-based immigrants would preserve certain immigration benefits even after they turn 21.  
  • The bill proposes to raise the number of diversity green cards (also known as the green card lottery) from 55,000 per year to 80,000 per year, and the cap for individual countries would increase, yet remain in place. 
  • The bill contains the National-Origin Based Anti-Discrimination Act for Nonimmigrants (NO-BAN) Act provision, aimed at preventing future U.S. presidents from issuing discriminative travel bans, such as the widely criticized Muslim Ban issued under President Trump. 
  • President Biden is planning to allocate up to $4 billion of federal funds to aid the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the largest source of immigrants to the U.S. from the Latin America, in their efforts to combat corruption, violent crimes, and poverty in their countries, that is, to help reduce immigration influx by dealing with its root causes.
  • The proposed bill assumes increased protection for victims of physical and psychological abuse while in the U.S., for victims of human trafficking, and those who seeks deportation relief by applying for protection under The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 program. 
  • In his efforts to optimize the work of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), President Biden is planning to reduce waiting time for asylum applications and reduce the existing backlog by increasing the number of immigration courts and judges and USCIS officers who conduct asylum interviews. However, the exact details of the plan remain unclear. 
  • All foreign nationals, seeking legal status in the U.S. should be called ‘noncitizens” instead of ‘aliens,’ in all government documentation. 

Apart from The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, Joe Biden revoked several proclamations and executive orders enacted under the previous administration on the first day of his presidency. 


Among the very first moves as a newly sworn president, Joe Biden revoked Executive Order 13780, issued by President Trump on January 27, 2017. The initial order was a continuation of Trump’s presidential campaign’s promises to curb immigration to the U.S. and preserve jobs for Americans, and it was among the first ones President Trump signed after coming to office. Executive Order 13780 imposed significant restrictions on travel to the U.S. for nationals of countries whose governments the U.S. Department of State believed to be supporting terrorism or being unable to fight and control it. Travel restrictions for different countries came under various terms, and the full list of countries, whose nationals were conditionally or completely banned from entering the U.S. included Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea, Venezuela, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Also, immigrants from the banned countries who had entered the U.S. legally prior to the Order’s issuance, were denied reunification with their families. Executive Order 13780 was heavily criticized, and its initial version was deemed unconstitutional and discriminatory and was called a Muslim Ban, as it restricted travel mainly from predominantly Muslim and African countries. Just one week after the Executive Order was signed, Federal Judge James Robart in Seattle temporarily blocked it. In respons, Trump issued the so-called Muslim Ban 2.0, allowing immigrants with approved visas and green cards to enter the country, but still not accepting new applications, and removing Iraq from the list. A series of legal battles ensued, and on September 24, 2017, Trump issued Muslim Ban 3.0, narrowing the list down to six predominantly Muslim countries, and adding North Korea and Venezuela. Subsequently, District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii halted the Order’s execution, and on June 26, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the judge’s decision and allowed execution of the third version of the Executive Order 13780. 

Now that the ban is set to be lifted, it is expected that nationals of the previously banned countries will be able to arrive to the U.S. both with immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. The new proclamation signed by President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021 also advised the embassies and consulates in the affected countries to begin processing new visa applications and reviewing the applications of individuals who were previously denied due to the ban, and doing so in an expedited manner. To ensure national security, which was the main reason for the issuance of Executive Order 13780, the Proclamation signed by President Biden proposes enhanced screening procedures of individuals applying for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, including a thorough social media profiling to make sure the applicants have no affiliation with terrorist organizations. 


Joe Biden signed a presidential proclamation to terminate the construction of the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border initiated by the previous administration, reasoning that the funds required for construction will have a better use in preventing real threats to national security. The wall construction was one of the central promises during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as he pointed out that illegal immigrants, who enter the country without proper inspection and determination of their admissibility, may engage in criminal activities in the U.S. and pose a significant threat to Americans. The budget required and the source of funding were not clearly defined, and the wall construction was initially halted for several months. The proposal included not only building new sections of the wall, but also fortification and replacement of the existing barriers, and replacement work of some parts of the existing wall which started only in February 2018. The president’s further demand for $5.6 billion of federal funds for the wall construction caused the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. Due to the lack of funding, condemnation of various immigrant advocacy groups, human rights and environment protection organizations, and a series of legal battles, less than a quarter of the projected wall length was built by the end of Donald Trump’s presidential term. On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden called the wall construction a waste of money and directed the responsible authorities to stop any construction-related work no later than within seven days after the signing of proclamation. 



President Biden is set to preserve and fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, a measure taken under the President Barack Obama administration in 2012, which President Trump’s administration was continuously attempting to terminate. Under DACA regulations, some 700,000 young people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children and grew up in the country, would receive a temporary deferment of removal and given a chance to obtain a temporary work permit, if they passed a background check and have been enrolled in school or enlisted in the military. The regulation’s underlying assumption is that the young immigrants’ deportation is not a priority of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and such immigrants, also known as Dreamers, as well as their U.S.-born children have never called any other country their home besides the U.S., therefore, they should be temporarily relieved from removal for humanitarian and other concerns, and that their ability work would greatly contribute to the nation’s economy.  Since DACA recipients receive degrees, they pursue careers and start their own businesses, and, according to some estimates, it would cost the economy $6.3 billion to replace and retrain new employees, if DACA is discontinued and their recipients are removed. Already 2017, in efforts to curb illegal immigration, President Trump’s administration started calling the program unconstitutional ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants and promised to terminate it to save jobs for Americans. Trump stated that President Obama enacted the DACA in 2012 using his executive authority without congressional approval and ordered to stop accepting new applications in September 2017. On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that President Trump’s termination of DACA was unlawful, and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) shall continue processing first-time DACA applications as well as applications for renewal. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, however, Trump’s administration stopped accepting new DACA applications, only accepting renewals. After coming to office, Joe Biden issued a proclamation revoking President Trump’s order to discontinue the DACA, allowing its recipients to file first-time and renewal applications. 


Since 1991, thousands of Liberians fled their country seeking protection from the armed conflict and civil unrest and were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S. The status was set to expire on October 1, 2007, and the government made several status extensions up to March 31, 2018. President Trump’s administration found the conditions in Liberia to be safe so that they do not justify the TPS, and provided them with work authorization instead and gave the TPS holders an opportunity for status adjustment to become permanent residents. Congress issued the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which included the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) provision, giving eligible Liberians time to apply for adjustment of status by January 10, 2020. However, the program has been implemented with significant bureaucratic hurdles, preventing eligible applicants from benefiting from it. On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed a presidential proclamation extending the deadline for status adjustment application and deferring deportation of Liberians until June 30, 2022. 

Photo by Scott Graham


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