On January 20, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. quickly initiated a broad immigration reform agenda through a multi-pronged approach of issuing a series of executive orders on his first day in office, proposing comprehensive legislation to Congress, and freezing the “midnight regulations” of the prior administration to allow the new administration time to review last-minute regulatory changes.
Executive Orders Issued
From reversing the travel ban targeting primarily Muslim countries to ending “harsh and extreme immigration enforcement”, Biden issued a series of executive orders on his first day in office, reversing many of the prior administration’s immigration policies.
Biden’s Legislative Proposal for Employment-Based Immigration Reform
President Biden’s proposed legislation, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, sets forth goals to “modernize our immigration system,” prioritize family unity, “grow our economy,” and “ensur[e] that the United States remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution.” The bill proposes changes to several areas of immigration: from employment- and family-based immigration to asylum and refugee protections.
In addition to eliminating green card quotas and proposing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States who were brought to the U.S. as children, President Biden’s proposed legislation also targets improving efficiency and reducing lengthy backlogs for employment-based work visa programs. However, the legislative proposal does not address high-skilled worker visas (e.g., H-1Bs or L-1s) and would still need to be passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate before being signed into law.
Regulatory Freeze on “Midnight Regulations”
Also on January 20, in an effort to halt or delay the Trump Administration’s “midnight regulations,” President Biden’s administration issued a freeze memo to “pause any new regulations from moving forward and give the incoming administration an opportunity to review any regulations that the Trump administration tried to finalize in its last days.”
Trump’s last-minute “midnight regulations” included restrictions on high-skilled worker visas through changes to the H-1B lottery selection process, adjusting the U.S. Department of Labor’s prevailing wage requirements for H-1B visa holders to higher salary percentiles, and creating additional obligations for both employers that place visa workers at third-party client sites and on the end-client companies where those workers are placed.
President Biden exercised this authority under the oversight authority of the Congressional Review Act, which allows a president and congress to undo last-minute “midnight regulations” issued by a prior administration during a certain look-back period. For regulations that have not yet taken effect within 60 days of the election and pending rules not yet published in the Federal Register, prior to enacting any new regulatory activity, federal executive agencies are directed to confer with the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Additionally, all pending rules that had not yet been published in the Federal Register are withdrawn.
List of Biden’s Executive Actions
In addition to Biden’s Executive Order reforms to U.S. immigration policy, below is a chart showing all of the executive actions signed by President Biden on his first days in office, including changes to business immigration policy measures and other executive actions that have followed or are expected.
|Subject Matter||Type of Executive Action||Date|
|Re-engagement with World Health Organization (WHO)||End withdrawal process||Jan. 20|
|Combating sexual orientation, gender identity discrimination||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Creation of COVID-19 response coordinator position||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Ending “harsh and extreme immigration enforcement”||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Launching an initiative to advance racial equity||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Requirement for ethics pledge for executive-branch personnel||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Requirement for masks/distancing on all federal property and by federal workers||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Reversing travel ban targeting primarily Muslim countries||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Revoking certain executive orders concerning federal regulation||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Revoking order that aims to exclude undocumented immigrants from the U.S. Census||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Revoking permit for Keystone XL pipeline, pause energy leasing in ANWR||Executive order||Jan. 20|
|Extending protection from deportation for Liberians in U.S.||Memorandum||Jan. 20|
|Freezing any new or pending regulations||Memorandum||Jan. 20|
|Modernizing and improving regulatory review||Memorandum||Jan. 20|
|Preserving DACA||Memorandum||Jan. 20|
|Stopping border wall construction||Proclamation||Jan. 20|
|Asking agencies to extend eviction/foreclosure moratoriums||Request||Jan. 20|
|Asking Education Dept. to extend student-loan pause||Request||Jan. 20|
|Rejoining Paris climate agreement||Sign an “instrument”||Jan. 20|
|Supporting international response to COVID-19, “restore U.S. global leadership”||Directive||Jan. 21|
|COVID-19 vaccination campaign goals||Directives||Jan. 21|
|Establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Establishing COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Improving collection/analysis of COVID-related data||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Increasing access to COVID-19 treatments and clinical care||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Invoking Defense Production Act to supply shortfalls in fight against COVID-19||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Issuing OSHA guidance for keeping workers safe from COVID-19||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Providing guidance on safely reopening schools||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Requiring face masks at airports, other modes of transportation||Executive order||Jan. 21|
|Increasing FEMA reimbursement to states for National Guard, PPE||Memorandum||Jan. 21|
|Asking agencies to boost food aid, improve delivery of stimulus checks||Executive order||Jan. 22|
|Restoring collective bargaining power for federal workers||Executive order||Jan. 22|
|Repealing ban on transgender people serving openly in U.S. military||Executive order||Jan. 25|
|Tightening ‘Buy American’ rules in government procurement||Executive order||Jan. 25|
|Reinstating coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil, most of Europe||Proclamation||Jan. 25|
|Ending Justice Department’s use of private prisons||Executive order||Jan. 26|
|Combating racism against Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders||Memorandum||Jan. 26|
|Directing agencies to engage in consultations with tribal governments||Memorandum||Jan. 26|
|Directing HUD to address discriminatory housing practices||Memorandum||Jan. 26|
|Pausing new oil and gas leasing on U.S. lands/waters, elevate climate change as national-security, foreign-policy priority||Executive order||Jan. 27|
|Re-establishing President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology||Executive order||Jan. 27|
|Directing agencies to make decisions on best available science, evidence||Memorandum||Jan. 27|
|Reopening Obamacare marketplaces, lowering recent barriers to joining Medicaid||Executive order||Jan. 28|
|Lifting certain restrictions on abortion funding||Memorandum||Jan. 28|
|Keeping aluminum tariffs on U.A.E., removal of exemption from Trump administration||Proclamation||Feb. 1|
|Ending “Remain in Mexico” program, restoration of U.S. asylum system||Executive order||Feb. 2|
|Creation of task force to reunite migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border||Executive order||Feb. 2|
|Implementing a roll back of the “public charge rule,” which imposes a wealth test on would-be immigrants||Executive order||Feb. 2|
|Retroactive reimbursement states fully for FEMA-eligible costs tied to COVID||Memorandum||Feb. 2|
About the Author:
Angela Schulz is the Managing Attorney of The Law Offices of Angela C. Schulz, PLLC in North Carolina and corporate and business immigration law for small to mid-sized entities (SMEs), serving the international needs of clients with cross-border transactional and business immigration matters in a variety of industries, including technology, hospitality, pharmaceutical, healthcare, financial services, biotechnology, real estate, and energy infrastructure.