5 ways Obama’s executive actions benefit immigrants

President Obama announced, on November 20, executive actions aiming to grant temporary stay to millions of undocumented immigrants, prioritize the deportation of felons, streamline the employment-based immigrant visa system, expand the provisional waiver program, and promote naturalization.

In response, congressional Republicans have threatened to shut down the government, impeach Obama, sue the president, and not pass any immigration reform through Congress. Meanwhile, some immigrant rights groups say Obama’s executive actions don’t go far enough.

The most contentious executive action is the grant of temporary relief from deportation to certain undocumented immigrants.

Amid the political hoopla, many who are in the U.S. unlawfully or without immigrant status — and would like to stay long-term — are wondering, how do the executive actions affect me? 

Here are 5 ways Obama’s executive actions are expected to benefit immigrants: 

1) Grant deferred action to more undocumented immigrant children by expanding DACA 

Deferred action grants a temporary stay in the U.S. without the threat of deportation. But it does not create a path to lawful permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S.

Obama is expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (which was first introduced on June 15, 2012) to cover a broader class of children.

First,  DACA will cover all undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, and not just those born after June 15, 1981, provided they meet the other guidelines.  DACA will no longer be limited to those under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.

Second, DACA will cover those who have continuous presence in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010, instead of the earlier date of June 15, 2007.

Third, DACA grants and renewals, including the work permits that come with DACA, will be valid for three years instead of two years.

The expanded DACA program is expected to begin 90 days from the November 20 announcement (i.e. February 18, 2015).  Those who have been convicted of a felony or major misdemeanor crime (including burglary, DUI, domestic violence, or drug distribution) still do not qualify.

2) Grant deferred action to undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents

Obama is creating a new deferral program – Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA) – for undocumented immigrant parents who have a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident son or daughter on the date of the November 20 announcement.

To qualify, the parents must also (i) not be enforcement priorities for removal from the U.S., (ii) have continuous presence in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010, and (iii) present no other factors that would make a grant of deferred action inappropriate.

USCIS will consider DAPA requests on a case-by-case basis, and applicants may apply for work authorization provided they pay the filing fee. DAPA grants and renewals, including the work permits that come with DAPA, will be valid for three years.

The new DAPA program is expected to begin 180 days from the November 20 announcement (i.e. May 19, 2015).

Each applicant must pass a background check of all relevant national security and criminal databases, including DHS and FBI databases, that would show they have not been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors.

3)  Streamline the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application process to support high-skilled businesses and workers

In a November 20 memorandum titled Policies Supporting U.S. High-Skilled Businesses and Workers, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security called for new regulations and administrative steps to:

(i) Modernize the employment-based immigrant visa system (and make it easier for U.S. businesses to hire and retain highly-skilled foreign-born workers).

(ii) Reform “Optional Practical Training” for foreign students and graduates from U.S. universities (and make it easier for those on student visas studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to remain after graduation for training and work opportunities).

(iii) Promote research and development in the U.S. (and make it easier for foreign investors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises to conduct research and development and create jobs in the U.S.).

(iv) Bring greater consistency to the L-1B “intracompany transferee” visa program (and make it easier for companies to manage their global workforce).

(v) Clarify guidelines for worker portability (and make it easier for adjustment of status applicants to accept promotions and change jobs without affecting their employment-based green card process).

4) Expand the Form I-601A, provisional waiver program 

The provisional waiver program for the 3/10 year unlawful presence bar, which USCIS introduced in 2013, will expand to spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, as well as adult children of U.S. citizens. It will no longer be just for U.S. citizens’ spouses, parents, and children (unmarried and under 21).

To obtain the waiver, applicants must still prove their absence from the U.S. will create “extreme hardships” for their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent (qualifying relative).

DHA plans to further clarify the “extreme hardship” standard that must be met to obtain the waiver. New guidelines and regulations will need to be issued for this to go into effect.

5) Promote the naturalization process

Lawful permanent residents who wish to naturalize will see some improvements in 2015. USCIS is expected to:

(i) Promote citizenship education and public awareness for lawful permanent resident;

(ii) Allow naturalization applicants to use credit cards to pay the application fee; and,

(iii) Assess potential for partial fee waivers.

A November 20 memorandum, titled Policies to Promote and Increase Access to U.S. Citizenship, states there are more than 8 million lawful permanent residents who are eligible, but who have not applied to become U.S. citizens. While the executive actions are meant to promote citizenship, they do not lower the eligibility requirements to become a U.S. citizen.

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To subscribe for email updates from USCIS on these executive actions, go to the Executive Actions on Immigration page on USCIS’ website.

This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.



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