President Joe Biden announced protections for undocumented foreign national spouses of U.S. citizens who have lived in the United States for 10 years without a legal immigration status. This will protect approximately 500,000 such spouses from deportation and fear of deportation. The program is expected to launch by summer’s end.

This comes on the 12th anniversary of the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, and comes on the heels of President Biden’s new southern border restrictions.

What was the problem?

The law allows a foreign national spouse of a U.S. citizen to apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”) and eventual U.S. citizenship through a process that usually does not involve a lengthy separation from the U.S. citizen spouse. But individuals who entered the United States in an unlawful manner accrue “unlawful presence” and are  required to return to their home countries to  receive permanent residence through a process involving the U.S. consulate.  

The law takes a punitive turn here. Once that undocumented person departs the U.S. to process the immigrant visa, they are barred from returning for up to 10 years depending upon the length of their unlawful presence in the United States. The law was designed to discourage people from coming to the United States unlawfully but it had the opposite effect of what was intended: people who were facing a 10-year separation from their families were understandably reluctant to leave even if it meant that they would be able to legalized. Instead, undocumented people with U.S. citizen spouses and children have largely chosen to live in the shadows rather than risk long-term separation from loved ones.

Biden’s plan will keep these families together. The program will make certain undocumented foreign national spouses eligible for “parole in place” and work authorization for three years while they may pursue permanent residence (and eventually citizenship) without leaving the United States.

Who is eligible?

The plan will grant parole in place and work authorization to undocumented spouses of  U.S. citizens who have been in the United States for at least 10 years, were married to the U.S. citizen before June 17, 2024, and are not considered a threat to public safety.

The program will also provide similar protection to approximately 50,000 undocumented people under 21 years of age who are the children of eligible spouses.

Previously deported individuals will not be eligible.

The Administration explains that the president has executive authority to grant parole on a case-by-case basis. But, without congressional action, the program could be abandoned by a different administration.

Immigration advocates excited by this program have noted that the new grants of work authorization will also be particularly helpful to the U.S. economy.


President Biden also plans to make some DACA “dreamers” eligible for work visas. As of now, DACA recipients must continually renew their DACA status and work authorization every two years. The new proposal would allow dreamers who have “high-skilled” job offers and U.S. degrees relevant to their proposed employment to have employers apply for work visas on their behalf. This would be first step in regularizing their immigration status.

Jackson Lewis attorney will continue to follow developments.