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Biden plans to expand legal immigration

US President Joe Biden plans to rebuild and expand legal immigration by cutting processing time, costs and security hoops; cut backlogs; and fix the H-1B visa programme that allows US companies to hire foreign employees, which have been overwhelmingly from India.

The New York Times has reported citing a blueprint that this effort will run parallel to the White House-backed ambitious immigration reform legislation before US Congress. The blueprint, titled “DHS Plan to Restore Trust in Our Legal Immigration System” (DHS is the department of homeland security, which oversees immigration), is only in draft stage and will go through several versions before finalisation.

Biden ran for the White House on the promise of “building a fair and humane immigration system” and undoing some of former president Donald Trump’s “cruel” policies rooted and reflected in his obsession of a border wall along the border with Mexico. Since taking office, Biden has indeed undone some of his predecessors more egregious policies such as the “Muslim ban”.

The central element, as the New York Times reported, of the new plan is to address backlogs in the immigration system, which had been building over the years and exacerbated by Trump’ restrictive policies.

It wasn’t clear from the report what specific backlogs will be targeted but the one that impacts applicants from India the most is the one for Green Cards. The US granted 1 million Green Cards in 2019, and that has been the general turnover annually. But, because of a per-country limit of 7%, the queue of Indian applicants has kept growing over the years.

More than 300,000 applicants are currently in line, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services; but Immigration Voice, an advocacy group, says the number is as high as 1.5 million.

The news report was not clear, once again, about plans for the H-1B visas – largest beneficiaries are Indians, accounting for more than 70% of the 85,000 granted annually – but the programme came in for harsh scrutiny and treatment from Trump administration, which loaded it with restrictive measures, most of whom have either lapsed or rescinded.

The blueprint will fast-track immigration applications by expanding virtual interviews and electronic filing, as well as limiting the requests for evidence from applicants, according to the New York Times. Domestic violence will be ground for seeking asylum, reversing Trump-era rule.

Immigration opportunities will be expanded for LGBTQ refugees fleeing countries where they are persecuted or where same-sex marriage is not recognised.

The blueprint proposes a revamp of a programme that allows undocumented immigrants to seek citizenship if they help law enforcement, and also allow protection to those cooperate with police even before they make it to the official waiting list for immigrant visas.

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