United States President Joe Biden has unveiled one of the largest immigration regularisation programmes in recent history, offering a pathway to citizenship to hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status in the country.
The new measures, announced on Tuesday, will allow some undocumented spouses of US citizens to apply for permanent residence — and eventually citizenship — without having to leave the country.
The move will affect more than 500,000 spouses of US citizens. About 50,000 noncitizen children under age 21, whose parents are married to a US citizen, will also be eligible.
In a White House speech, Biden pitched the new executive action as a “common-sense fix” to the “cumbersome” system that is already in place.
Tuesday’s announcement comes as immigration continues to be a central and divisive issue in the lead-up to presidential elections.
Earlier in the day, members of the Biden administration pitched the change as a boon not just to immigrant families but also to the country’s economy.
Immigrant rights advocates also welcomed the new pathway to permanent residency, though they encouraged the Biden administration to do more. According to the White House, those eligible for the programme have been in the US for an average of 23 years.
To qualify for the spousal programme, an applicant must have lived in the US for 10 years as of Monday and be married to a US citizen.
If their application is approved, the applicant would have three years to apply for a green card and receive a temporary work permit. In the meantime, they would be shielded from deportation.
If granted a green card, they could eventually apply for US citizenship.
Senior administration officials said they anticipate the process will be open for applications by the end of the summer. The Biden administration received pushback, however, over the requirement that eligible spouses had to have lived in the US for at least 10 years.
Immigration is set to be a key voting issue in November’s election: A poll earlier this year from the survey agency Gallup found that immigration had topped a list of key voter concerns, ahead of inflation and the economy.
Biden faces a close race against his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who pursued a hardline, anti-immigration stance while in the White House.

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