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MPI Offers Estimates of the Number of Unauthorized Immigrants Who Could Be Placed on Expedited Path to Citizenship under Biden-Backed Bill
Press Release
Monday, February 22, 2021

MPI Offers Estimates of the Number of Unauthorized Immigrants Who Could Be Placed on Expedited Path to Citizenship under Biden-Backed Bill

WASHINGTON — The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that nearly 3.3 million unauthorized immigrants who are Dreamers, farmworkers or holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as well as their spouses and minor children present in the United States, could gain an immediate path to a green card and a three-year track to citizenship under the White House-backed legislation introduced in Congress.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 introduced by lead sponsors Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) would create an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States. It would place some unauthorized immigrant groups — those who entered the United States as children (Dreamers), agricultural workers and TPS recipients — on a faster track to citizenship.

Drawing upon MPI’s unique methodology to assign legal status in U.S. Census Bureau data and analysis of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, MPI estimates that:

  • The Dreamer and TPS provisions could provide a direct path to legal permanent residence (also known as getting a green card) for 1.85 million people — 1,652,000 who are themselves Dreamers or TPS holders, and about 204,000 unauthorized immigrants or nonimmigrants who are their spouses or minor children.
  • The farmworker provision could legalize about 1.1 million farmworkers who are unauthorized immigrants, provided they can demonstrate that they have worked 2,300 hours or 400 work days in agriculture over the last five years. Under the legislation, which would permit these legalized farmworkers to sponsor their spouses and minor children in the United States for a green card, MPI estimates a further 342,000 individuals could gain legal permanent residence. It is not possible for MPI to estimate the number of spouses and children outside the United States whom legalizing farmworkers could sponsor in the future. (Dreamers and TPS recipients would be much less likely to have spouses or children outside the United States given their long years of U.S. residence.)

Notes: The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has modeled provisions of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, HR 1177, introduced on February 18, 2021, www.lindasanchez.house.gov/sites/lindasanchez.house.gov/files/2021.02.18%20US%20Citizenship%20Act%20Bill%20Text%20-%20SIGNED.pdf. Estimates are provided for three populations, all of whom would have to demonstrate presence in the United States as of January 1, 2021: (1) Dreamers, who were younger than 18 when they first entered the United States and have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, who can satisfy at least one of the following criteria: Have received a degree from an institution of higher education or have completed at least two years of a program leading to a bachelor’s degree or higher or postsecondary credential, have served in the military for at least two years, or have earned income for at least three years and 75 percent of the time with work authorization (though if also enrolled in higher education/post-secondary school, the three-year income requirement is reduced by the total period of enrollment); or are the U.S.-based spouses or minor children of qualifying Dreamers. (2) Recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), in other words nationals of a state that was designated for TPS on January 1, 2017 or were eligible for Deferred Enforced Departure on that date; or are the spouses or minor children of qualifying TPS holders. (3) Agricultural workers who in the five years before the date of application can demonstrate they have performed agricultural labor or services for at least 2,300 hours or 400 work days; or are the U.S.-based spouses or minor children of qualifying farmworkers.
Source: These 2018 estimates result from MPI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2014-18 American Community Survey (ACS) pooled and the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), weighted to 2018 unauthorized immigrant population estimates provided by Jennifer Van Hook of The Pennsylvania State University, Population Research Institute.

The estimates released today, which model particulars of a specific piece of legislation, build upon MPI’s longstanding work estimating the size and characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population. Earlier this month, MPI offered estimates for the numbers who could benefit under the DREAM Act of 2021, and issued a report looking at the broad unauthorized immigrant subgroups that have been raised as possible candidates for narrower legalizations, including essential workers and the parents and spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The report also traces past legalizations and details the range and scope of legalization options that policymakers have, ranging from placing people on a pathway to citizenship, to limited and renewable legal status, or legal protections provided via executive action.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.