On November 20 and 21, 2014, President Barack Obama announced an overhaul of the immigration system through a series of executive actions. The actions established new immigration programs, changed guidelines for existing programs and created new proposals for visas.

 

Deferred Action for Parental Accountability Program

One of the new programs that was established is the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability. This is a prosecutorial discretion program that provides temporary relief for certain unauthorized individuals from removal. Eligible individuals are parents of American citizen children or LPR children, have lived in the country continuously for four years, were physically present on November 20, 2014, have no current lawful immigration status and do not represent a high enforcement priority. This program was part of Obama’s plan to focus on removing criminals and not families. The program was expected to begin receiving applications within 180 days of the executive action announcement.

Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

This prosecutorial discretion program was expanded to allow more individuals to be eligible for the program. The DACA program eliminated the age ceiling and allowed for individuals who began to reside in the country as late as January 1, 2010 to be eligible. Additionally, employment authorization and grants for DACA were expanded to last for three years instead of the previously-permitted two years. Under the new provisions, DACA applicants are expected to be able to apply within 90 days of the executive action announcement.

Visa Modernization

The President issued a memorandum regarding streamlining the visa process on November 21, 2014. This memorandum asked immigration agencies to develop new recommendations to improve the existing visa system. Additionally, the memo emphasized the need to reinforce legislative reforms to ensure that the immigration system is maintained in a way to address the existing economic and national security needs. He asked for recommendations to be received within three months of the memo’s date. New recommendations are needed to ensure that processing of visas is completed in an efficient manner, all visa numbers are used consistent with the demand for them and that the technological infrastructure be improved.

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo that directed USCIS to implement steps that would reduce wait times for employment-based immigrant visas. He also asked USCIS to create changes in policies that would ensure that applicants with pending visa applications would not lose their current place in line if they happen to change jobs during this time period.
A number of policy changes are also being made to prevent creative individuals from leaving the country to use their skills elsewhere. One such policy change is a reform to the Optional Practical Training program. More programs would be included in this program that allows foreign students to gain experience through work in their chosen field before and after they graduate. Other changes would allow these students to work longer in the United States. A greater consistency for visas that provide multinational companies to transfer high-ranking employees to the United States for a temporary period of time is also desired. Additionally, greater flexibility for individuals who have employment-based permanent resident status to change jobs is also being established. Additionally, initiatives are being put in place to allow spouses of workers who have H-1B visas to receive employment authorization.

Provisional Waivers

Currently, regulations permit spouses, minor children and parents of United States children to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility while they are inside the United States. These individuals then travel abroad for their consular processing after the USCIS grants their waiver. A new initiative being put in place will allow the same family members to be provided this option for LPRs. Additionally, adult children of USCs or LPRs will now be considered eligible family members.

In order for a person to be able to receive a provisional waiver, he or she must demonstrate that his or her absence from the United States would create an “extreme hardship” on his eligible family member. However, the term “extreme hardship” is not particularly defined in immigration law or policy. The Secretary of Homeland Security has asked USCIS to provide further guidance on this term.

Priorities

The Department of Homeland Security Secretary also drafted a memo on department-wide policies. This memo prioritizes the removal of certain individuals. This memo requires Department of Homeland Securities Agencies to operate under the same set of enforcement priorities. They are directed to focus on the removal of people who serve as a threat to national security, border security or public safety. The memo became effective on January 5, 2015.