By Sukhram Ramkissoon
On Nov. 20, President Barack Obama revealed substantial changes to the U.S. immigration system that could benefit approximately five million undocumented immigrants, most of whom are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (Green Card holders), via executive action.
It must be noted that Obama’s actions to streamline and reform the legal immigration system, while meaningful, may be short-lived if Congress passes legislation or if the following president decides to rescind the executive action through his or her own executive powers.
Obama’s action expands the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s June 15, 2012, announcement on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children deferred action and work authorization, as long as several requirements are met.
Deferred action, in practice, means that an undocumented immigrant will not be prosecuted or put into removal proceedings for a limited amount of time.
Under Obama’s recent executive action, the deferred action and work authorization period for those eligible under DACA is extended from two to three years. Additionally, Obama’s executive action removes the upper age restriction for eligibility for DACA, meaning that undocumented immigrants who were born before June 15, 1981, are now allowed to apply for DACA.
Further, individuals will be eligible to apply for DACA if they can establish continuous residence in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2010.
Alongside the extension of DACA, the executive action creates a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program, which allows undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and can establish continuous residency since Jan.1, 2010, to be eligible for deferred action, provided they pay taxes.
Felons, terrorism suspects, gang members and recent undocumented or out-of-status immigrants will not be protected. The Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program provides those who qualify deferred action and work authorization for a period of three years.
Obama’s executive action modifies many other immigration matters. For example, it allows spouses, sons, and daughters of legal permanent residents and sons and daughters of U.S. citizens to apply for waivers of inadmissibility for unlawful presence in the U.S. before departing for immigrant visa interviews at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
This new process is expected to shorten the time U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives while those family members are obtaining immigrant visas to become lawful permanent residents of the United States.
Obama’s executive action will also finalize a rule to provide work authorization to the spouses of certain H-1B visa holders who are on the path to legal permanent resident status.
While Obama’s executive action does take a couple of steps to reform the immigration system, it is critical to note there are many actions that are not addressed.
Most importantly, the executive action does not grant amnesty to undocumented or out-of-status immigrants or any other avenue to legal permanent residence. It does not change the legal status of undocumented immigrants.
In addition, his executive action is temporary and reversible. Obama or the next person who becomes president in 2016 may suspend or terminate the executive action, as could legislation by Congress.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is not currently accepting applications related to these executive initiatives but individuals who think they may be eligible for one or more of the new initiatives may prepare now by gathering documentation to demonstrate eligibility.
USCIS expects to begin accepting applications for the expanded DACA program approximately 90 days after the president’s Nov. 20 announcement. USCIS expects to begin accepting applications under the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program approximately 180 days after the announcement. Other programs will be implemented after new guidance and regulations are issued.
Please contact us for a consultation on whether you may be eligible for these benefits.
Sukhram Ramkissoon is a member of ICCRC and specializes in immigration matters at 3089 Bathurst St., Suite 219A, Toronto. Phone 416-789-5756.