The pandemic has changed virtually everything, U.S. immigration included. As the new administration took over earlier this year with its own immigration agenda, there are likely big changes ahead. Here’s what you need to know as an attorney.
How COVID continues to impact immigration
COVID-19 has caused many significant impacts on immigration. Early in the pandemic, immigration offices were shut down and the entire system saw backlogs and slowdowns. Immigration proceedings were also disrupted, and travel restrictions were put in place to try to limit the spread of the virus. Between March 11, 2020, and February 22, 2021, there were almost 105,000 movement restrictions put in place globally. The second half of 2020 saw 87% fewer immigrants than the first half of the year, the largest annual decline in U.S. history.
What the current administration is doing
President Biden has outlined immigration reform measures that aim to keep immigrant families together, improve the legal system, and address the causes of irregular migration head-on.
Early February 2021, the Biden Administration laid out an immigration reform plan known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would cause major changes. If passed, the bill would:
- Create an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented Americans
- Address some of the backlog in the system by setting aside funding for judges, staff, and lawyers
- Create more effective border security
- Create more opportunities for visa petitions for counties and municipalities
- Replace “alien” with “noncitizen” in the immigration code
- End counting spouses and children against a country’s allotted visas
- Treat LGBTQ+ partnerships as equal
- Increase the number of diversity visas for low-rate immigration countries from 55,000 to 80,000
It is still yet to be seen what the new administration will actually pass, but the proposal gives Americans a hint of what’s to come.
Impacts on immigration lawyers
With uncertainties still looming with the continuing pandemic, even as restrictions ease, legal immigration clients will have lots of questions for attorneys. All these changes and COVID-19 impacts have meant that lawyers need to be flexible and supportive like never before. They need to know how the courts are shifting and responding to pandemic restrictions, including virtual meetings and proceedings, and stay up to date on how the virus is impacting the entire immigration system.