The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation bill, 220-213, on November 19, 2021. Although it doesn’t include a direct path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as some had hoped, it would provide for up to 10 years of work authorization and protection from removal for those who have been living in the United States since before 2011 and pass background checks, among other immigration-related provisions.
In total, the bill would provide $100 billion toward immigration measures, including grants for student support services, provisions to expedite backlogged green card applicants, and increases in some immigration-related fees. It would earmark $2.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to reduce processing backlogs, and would recapture several hundred thousand unused green cards to help reduce green card backlogs.
The Senate is likely to consider the House bill in December. The Senate is likely to revise or defeat it. Among various factors, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough earlier rejected several previous immigration-related provisions in the draft bill, such as a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. However, observers believe some provisions may survive her scrutiny this time, such as recovery of unused green cards.
Below are selected highlights of the House-passed version of the “Build Back Better Act”:
Work Permits for Undocumented Immigrants
The House bill would allow an estimated seven million undocumented immigrants living in the United States since before 2011 to stay in the United States through parole, and to be eligible for work permits valid for five years (renewable once, for a total of 10 years). They would be eligible for authorization to travel, and driver’s licenses, if they file an application and pay a fee. They could also apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. They would need to pass background checks.
Green Cards for Backlogged Immigrants
The House bill’s provisions would allow a person waiting for more than two years in the backlog of approved legal immigration applications to pay a supplemental fee and file for adjustment of status to obtain a green card without waiting for a priority date to become available. The fee would vary, depending on the type of green card: $2,500 for family-based green cards; $5,000 for employment-based green cards; and $50,000 for immigrant investor green cards.
These applicants would be subject to security and law enforcement background checks, medical examinations, and additional criteria (e.g., meet certain age, physical presence, work, military service, and/or educational requirements). Waivers would be available for humanitarian purposes or family unity, or if a waiver is otherwise in the public interest.
Benefits for International Students
The House bill would provide grants to eligible colleges and universities to provide comprehensive academic, career, and student support services, including mentoring, advising, case management services, and career pathway navigation; assistance in applying for and accessing direct support services, means-tested federal benefit programs, or similar state, tribal, and local benefit programs; emergency financial aid grants to students for unexpected expenses and to meet basic needs; accelerated learning opportunities, including dual or concurrent enrollment programs and early college high school programs, and pathways to graduate and professional degree programs; and reforming course scheduling and credit awarding policies, among other benefits.
The bill states that no individual “shall be determined to be ineligible to receive benefits provided under this subpart (including services and other aid…) on the basis of citizenship, alienage, or immigration status.”
Examples of supplemental immigration-related fees that would be imposed by the House bill, if passed, include:
- $100 for certain family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions (Form I-130)
- $800 for each employment-based immigrant visa petition (Form I-140)
- $15,000 for each employment-based fifth preference petition (Form I-526)
The bill would provide diversity visa green cards for several thousand lottery winners who were denied admission to the United States since 2017 because of certain executive orders and limits on visa processing.
The House bill would provide $2.8 billion to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to help the agency decide cases more efficiently and to reduce case processing backlogs.
For advice in specific situations, contact your Miller Mayer attorney.
- “Build Back Better Act” (most of the immigration provisions are on pp. 899–914), H.R. 5376
- “President Biden Announces the Build Back Better Framework,” White House, Oct. 28, 2021
- House Democrats Just Passed Build Back Better—Here’s What’s Included,” CNBC, Nov. 19, 2021
- “How the House Spending Bill Sets a Path to Legalization for Undocumented Immigrants,” Washington Post, Nov. 19, 2021, (subscription)
- “What Will the Senate Do With the Build Back Better Bill?,” Time, Nov. 19, 2021