There is no doubt that the U.S. immigration system is currently facing serious issues, many of which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current administration has promised to prioritize immigration reform and provide much-needed relief since entering the White House. After one year at the helm, how has U.S. immigration policy changed? What relief do we have to look forward to as we enter 2022?
Immigration changes in 2021
Some of the first actions the Biden administration took to ease immigration burdens involved reversing Trump-era policies and restrictions. In February and March, President Biden released several executive orders that lifted limitations placed by the previous administration – promising relief for H-1B visa holders, foreign workers seeking a visa, lower-income applicants and certain spouses and dependents of visa holders.
As the year progressed, the Biden administration opened several doors for more applicants to enter the United States. The International Entrepreneur Parole Program was re-introduced over the summer, resuming an Obama-era program that appealed to foreign entrepreneurs. In September, the U.S. government announced it would raise the refugee cap in the 2022 fiscal year from 15,000 to 125,000.
In addition to the above executive changes, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has taken a range of steps to decrease backlogs and speed up processing times for applicants. While significant bottlenecks remain, the agency has noted that they have made progress in addressing these problems and expect to continue streamlining the system in 2022.
Despite actions the U.S. government has taken, however, there is still much work to be done. According to a Census Bureau report, net international migration to the U.S. was 247,000 between 2020 and 2021. This is a significant decrease from the 477,000 added from 2019 to 2020, and is much less than last decade’s high of 1,049,000 between 2015 and 2016. According to experts, this steady drop in immigration is a result of both COVID-19 travel restrictions and the restrictive policies the U.S. has implemented over the past several years.
Outlook for 2022
We can expect many of the improvements made during 2021 to be built upon in 2022. The exact outlook for 2022 depends largely on the future of the coronavirus pandemic and the actions taken by government officials. Some potential changes on the horizon may include:
- Additional changes to the H-1B program. The Biden administration signaled that it will move forward with plans to adjust the H-1B program. The proposed changes include establishing new guidelines for employer site visits, as well as measures to redefine the relationship between employer and H-1B worker. New rules have also been proposed which could result in higher minimum wage levels for H-1B workers, though similar rules have been vacated by federal judges in the past.
- Additional premium processing. USCIS has announced plans to expand their premium processing service to applicants for employment authorization and certain dependents of H-1B and L-1 workers who wish to amend or change their status. This could help alleviate backlogs for some groups of applicants.
- Higher filing fees. One unfortunate change lies in the future fee structure for consulate and USCIS services. Some visa application fees at American consulates may rise in 2022, according to a proposed rule from the Department of State. Additionally, USCIS has announced hikes to petition and application filing fees set to take place in March.
Broader-scale immigration reform has been introduced to Congress several times over the past year, though it has been met with harsh resistance in every instance. However, we may see these efforts continue in 2022, which could allow for more significant fixes to the immigration system.