Posted on January 20, 2022

Key Facts About U.S. Immigration Policies and Biden’s Proposed Changes

Jens Manuel Krogstad and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, Pew Research Center, January 11, 2022

Since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, his administration has acted on a number of fronts to reverse Trump-era restrictions on immigration to the United States. The steps include plans to boost refugee admissionspreserving deportation relief for unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and not enforcing the “public charge” rule that denies green cards to immigrants who might use public benefits like Medicaid.

Biden has also lifted restrictions established early in the coronavirus pandemic that drastically reduced the number of visas issued to immigrants. The number of people who received a green card declined from about 240,000 in the second quarter of the 2020 fiscal year (January to March) to about 79,000 in the third quarter (April to June). By comparison, in the third quarter of fiscal 2019, nearly 266,000 people received a green card.

Biden’s biggest immigration proposal to date would allow more new immigrants into the U.S. while giving millions of unauthorized immigrants who are already in the country a pathway to legal status. {snip}


Overall, more than 35 million lawful immigrants live in the U.S.; most are American citizens. Many live and work in the country after being granted lawful permanent residence, while others receive temporary visas available to students and workers. In addition, roughly 1 million unauthorized immigrants have temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs.

Here are key details about existing U.S. immigration programs, as well as Biden’s proposed changes to them:

Family-based immigration

In fiscal 2019, nearly 710,000 people received lawful permanent residence in the U.S. through family sponsorship. {snip}

Biden’s proposal would expand access to family-based green cards in a variety of ways, such as by increasing per-country caps and clearing application backlogs. Today, family-based immigration – referred to by some as “chain migration” – is the most common way people gain green cards, in recent years accounting for about two-thirds of the more than 1 million people who receive green cards annually.

Refugee admissions

The U.S. admitted only 11,411 refugees in fiscal year 2021, the lowest number since Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act for those fleeing persecution in their home countries. The low number of admissions came even after the Biden administration raised the maximum number of refugees the nation could admit to 62,500 in fiscal 2021. Biden has increased the refugee cap to 125,000 for fiscal 2022, which started on Oct. 1, 2021.


Employment-based green cards

In fiscal 2019, the U.S. government awarded more than 139,000 employment-based green cards to foreign workers and their families. The Biden administration’s proposed legislation could boost the number of employment-based green cards, which are capped at about 140,000 per year. The proposal would allow the use of unused visa slots from previous years and allow spouses and children of employment-based visa holders to receive green cards without counting them against the annual cap. {snip}

Diversity visas

Each year, about 50,000 people receive green cards through the U.S. diversity visa program, also known as the visa lottery. Since the program began in 1995, more than 1 million immigrants have received green cards through the lottery, which seeks to diversify the U.S. immigrant population by granting visas to underrepresented nations. {snip}

The Biden administration has proposed legislation to increase the annual total to 80,000 diversity visas. Trump had sought to eliminate the program.

H-1B visas

In fiscal 2019, more than 188,000 high-skilled foreign workers received H-1B visas. {snip}

The Biden administration is expected to review policies that led to increased denial rates of H-1B visa applications under the Trump administration. {snip}


Temporary Protected Status

Overall, it is estimated that more than 700,000 immigrants from 12 countries currently have or are eligible for a reprieve from deportation under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a federal program that gives time-limited permission for some immigrants from certain countries to work and live in the U.S. The program covers those who fled designated nations because of war, hurricanes, earthquakes or other extraordinary conditions that could make it dangerous for them to live there.


Immigrants from Venezuela and Myanmar are newly eligible for TPS under changes made after Biden took office in January 2021 by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program. The government must periodically renew TPS benefits or they will expire. The department extended benefits into 2022 and beyond for eligible immigrants from nine nations: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In addition, the Biden administration expanded eligibility for immigrants from Haiti based on recent turmoil.

Biden and congressional Democrats have proposed granting citizenship to certain immigrants who receive TPS benefits. {snip}