Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century
Our nation's immigration system is broken. Fixing it is an economic and national security imperative. That's why President Obama is working to pass a common sense, comprehensive set of reforms that ensures everyone plays by the same rules.
Streamlining Legal Immigration
“[W]e’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century… if you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America... If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.”
President Barack Obama, January 29, 2013
Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules. For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries. The President’s proposal will also reunite families in a timely and humane manner.
The President's Proposal
Keep families together.
The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers. The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system. It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.
Cut red tape for employers.
The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system. Outdated legal immigration programs are reformed to meet current and future demands by exempting certain categories from annual visa limitations.
Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs.
The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.
“Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas.
The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States. It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in
Enhance travel and tourism.
The Administration is committed to increasing U.S. travel and tourism by facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining our nation’s security. Consistent with the President’s Executive Order on travel and tourism, the President’s proposal securely streamlines visa and foreign visitor processing. It also strengthens law enforcement cooperation while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives. It facilitates more efficient travel by allowing greater flexibility to designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of designated countries to visit the United States without obtaining a visa. And finally it permits the State Department to waive interview requirements for certain very low-risk visa applicants, permitting resources to be focused on higher risk applicants and creates a pilot for premium visa processing.
Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development.
The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions ; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for state and local government officials to promote economic development.
Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.
The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.
Better addresses humanitarian concerns.
The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence. It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.
The proposal promotes earned citizenship and efforts to integrate immigrants into their new American communities linguistically, civically, and economically.
Progress Streamlining Legal Immigration
Reducing time U.S. citizens are separated from immediate family members.
The President understands the challenges facing immigrant families. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has established a new process to reduce the time U.S. citizens are separated from certain immediate relatives while those family members go through the process of becoming legal immigrants to the United States. Under the process, spouses and children of U.S. citizens would be able to apply for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence while still in the United States if they meet certain criteria. For more information, click here.
Reducing barriers for immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators.
We must continue to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who will start new businesses and create new jobs here in America. Taking action on this front, USCIS established an innovative “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative, harnessing industry expertise to ensure that existing immigration pathways are clear and consistent, and reflect the business realities of entrepreneurs interested in coming to the U.S. to create jobs. Recently, the Administration launched Entrepreneur Pathways, an online resource center that provides entrepreneurs who seek to start a business in the United States an intuitive way to navigate the immigration process. The Administration has also taken action to keep more talented science and math graduates in the country longer and to attract highly skilled immigrants, all under existing authority.
Streamlining visa and foreign visitor processing.
Tourism is America’s number one service export and a source of millions of jobs. This is why the Administration is also focused on securely streamlining and facilitating the flow of legitimate non-immigrant visitors to our country. In January 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Order directing the Departments of State and Homeland Security to increase the capacity to process visas in the growing economies of China and Brazil, shorten the time it takes to get a tourist visa, expand the pool of individuals who can travel without a visa, and get people into trusted traveler programs so they don’t have to wait in line when they arrive. In August 2012, the Administration released a report showing the progress the Departments have made not only in meeting, but exceeding these goals, while enhancing our ability to protect Americans from national security threats.
The President is committed to maintaining a robust refugee admissions program—a longstanding and important component of America’s overall effort to support vulnerable people around the world. The Administration has moved to address the unique challenges and barriers that refugees face by:
Meeting regularly with stakeholders and service providers to understand refugee needs and supporting federal grant programs that help local organizations serve refugee communities;
Improving refugee health by increasing medical screening, providing new mental health resources, updating the manual for refugees with disabilities, and ensuring that refugees are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act; and
Conducting comprehensive on-going reviews of the United States Refugee Admissions, Refugee Social Service, and Targeted Assistance Formula Grant Programs in order to better serve refugees and the communities in which they resettle.
Providing greater protections for farm workers and their families.
By reforming the H-2A temporary agricultural program, the Department of Labor (DOL) has strengthened worker protections and requirements for employers who are seeking to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Through this effort, DOL is ensuring that the H-2A temporary agricultural program is only available to employers with a legitimate temporary need for non-immigrant workers and protecting foreign farm workers and domestic workers from exploitation. As part of DOL’s continuing commitment to customer service, DOL has also published an H-2A Employer Handbook which provides additional guidance to employers and established an H-2A Ombudsman Program whose primary purpose is to facilitate resolution of concerns among both agricultural employers and workers.
Providing New Tools to Prepare Applicants for Citizenship.
Throughout our history, the United States has been enriched by a steady stream of hardworking and talented people from all over the world. These generations of immigrants with unique and important skills have helped make America the engine of the global economy. The Administration is committed to promoting citizenship and fully integrating newcomers to their new communities. Doing so will not only allow them to thrive, it will also ensure that America remains the envy of the world. As a part of these efforts, the Administration has:
- Launched a new Citizenship Resource Center that centralizes information and tools on the naturalization process;
- Created the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program to improve access to information about the naturalization process for qualified legal immigrants;
- Worked to naturalize more than 36,000 military personnel and established a military assistance team that works with the Department of Defense to ensure the military community has accurate information about immigration services;
- Launched a nationwide initiative to combat immigration services scams through increasing enforcement, education and collaboration with local communities.
Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.
President Barack Obama
January 21, 2013