A policy update by US Citizenship and Immigration Services will add protections for children of temporary visa holders from losing their legal status while their parents’ green card applications are pending.
The update will allow children and young adults with a dependent visa to lock in their age earlier in the application process for a green card. There are more than 200,000 so-called “documented dreamers” in the US at risk of aging out of legal status at age 21 while waiting for permanent residency based on their parents’ employment-based green card application.
Most of those young people are nationals of India and China, who face especially long wait times because of green card backlogs. Foreign workers from those countries, which are the biggest sources of employees on high-skill visas, can spend decades on temporary status because of annual caps on the number of green cards that can be issued to nationals of a given country.
Congress passed the Child Status Protection Act in 2002 to protect the legal status of children with dependent visas, allowing them to “freeze” their age while a parent’s green card application is pending based on when a green card is deemed available. USCIS previously calculated a young person’s age under the law based on the “final action date” of a visa bulletin, when green card numbers become available for a specific visa category and country. The policy change will base age calculations on the earlier filing date when applicants are allowed to submit green card applications.
Groups that included the American Immigration Lawyers Association had argued the previous policy still left many documented dreamers vulnerable to aging out.
Some children and young people with pending green card applications will now have ages lower than 21 under the Child Status Protection Act. A USCIS spokesman said the agency doesn’t have readily available data on the number of children who could benefit from the policy change.
The update is a “narrow, commonsense policy change,” said Dip Patel, founder of Improve the Dream, which advocates for documented dreamers. But many children will continue to age out while they wait for approved filing dates.
“This is an important step forward that will protect many individuals who contribute to our country and economy every single day, but we cannot stop here,” Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.) said in a statement Tuesday.
Ross said Congress must pass bipartisan legislation offering a pathway to citizenship for documented dreamers.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments this month in a case challenging visa rules that plaintiffs said violated the equal protection rights of children of Indian nationals by placing them at risk of aging out.