Joe Biden’s administration will speed up processing temporary work permit applications for thousands of undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes as part of the president’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.
U-visa applications for roughly 270,000 people have added to a backlog that has grown under Donald Trump’s administration, with an average wait time of at least five years just to be placed on a waiting list for temporary work authorisation in the US.
The 20-year-old U-visa programme grants temporary legal status to victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault, and who agree to cooperate with law enforcement.
The US can grant up to 10,000 of those annually, forcing thousands of people and their families to wait indefinitely for those protections, which can provide a pathway to permanent legal status or citizenship in the US.
“Due to drastic increases in the volume of U nonimmigrant petitions and a growing backlog awaiting placement on the waiting list or final adjudication,” US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin expediting processing in certain cases, the agency announced in a policy memo on 14 June.
USCIS is implementing this guidance “immediately”.
The Trump administration rejected applications for potentially thousands of U-visa applicants as well as asylum seekers and other immigrants seeking legal status if any fields on their forms were left blank or appeared incomplete, among other draconian and punitive policies under the administration’s chaotic immigration agenda.
Mr Biden has sought to strip away Trump-era barriers to obtaining legal status by making the immigration system simpler and more affordable, according to a Department of Homeland Security blueprint outlining the president’s agenda.
Announced in February, his proposed US Citizenship Act would create a sweeping set of reforms with an eight-year path to citizenship that could impact nearly 11 million immigrants.
The American Dream and Promise Act would grant citizenship to an estimated 2.7 million people who arrived as children or have temporary legal status to stay in the US.
Granting a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants could boost the gross domestic product by $1.7 trillion, according to a report from progressive thinktank Center for American Progress.
It also would increase average wages by $4,300 over five years and $11,800 over 10 years, the report found.
The president’s agenda follows a spike in the number of migrants who arrived at the US-Mexico border in recent months, fleeing violence and corruption abroad, and drained economies exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Law enforcement continues to expel adult migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border under a public health order invoked by the former president. More than 112,000 people were expelled under Title 42 provisions in May, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
The Biden administration has formally ended a Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced thousands of asylum seekers to remain on the other side of the southern border in potentially dangerous shelters while their asylum claims were processed in the US. Administration officials said more than 11,000 asylum applications have been processed, but the Title 42 policy remains in effect.
Vice President Kamala Harris has also returned from Mexico and Guatemala to promote efforts to combat poverty, persecution and corruption in Central America and draw up pacts with officials to support anti-drug trafficking measures and efforts to combat human smuggling.
Her visit also followed the anticipated release of a progress report from a Homeland Security task force on the state of family reunification for the thousands of families still separated after their expulsion under the Trump administration and its “zero tolerance” policy that sought to criminally prosecute asylum seekers.
The report found that 1,786 children were reunified with their families in the US and in their home countries, most of them prior to the creation of the task force within the first days of the Biden administration.
But there are an estimated 2,127 children “who may remain separated from their parents”, the report found.
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