‘Life-altering day:’ 15,000 Arizonans qualify for new streamlined citizenship process

‘Life-altering day:’ 15,000 Arizonans qualify for new streamlined citizenship process

Immigrants seeking asylum Natalia Oliveira da Silva and her daughter, Sara, 5, hug as they wait at a Catholic Charities facility, Monday, July 23, 2018, after being separated for two months under immigration policies put in place by then-President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By Camaron Stevenson

June 21, 2024

Changes made to the citizenship process and work visa requirements announced Tuesday by the Biden administration are expected to streamline the pathway for citizenship and employment for thousands of Arizonans.

The process revisions for citizenship focus on simplifying the process for spouses of US citizens by allowing them to stay with their families while their application is processed. Previously, applicants were often required to travel to their country of origin for an unspecified amount of time, separating them from their partner, their children, and their home.

“The Statue of Liberty is not some relic of American history. It still stands for who we are,” Biden said. “But I also refuse to believe that for us to continue to be America that embraces immigration, we have to give up securing our border. They’re false choices.”

Here’s what’s new:

  • Streamlined citizenship timeline for spouses of citizens who have lived in the US for 10 years
  • Spouses don’t have to leave the country while applying for permanent residency
  • Expedited work visas for “Dreamers” with a college degree or high-skill job offer

Any undocumented individual who is married to a US citizen and has been in the country for at least 10 years as of June 17, 2024, and has met all other legal requirements, automatically qualifies to apply for citizenship under the new framework.


Change prevents family separation

An estimated 15,000 Arizonans will be eligible for the streamlined process, according to research conducted by immigration reform group FWD.US. The benefits will ripple much farther, as the 43,000 children and spouses who live with eligible noncitizens will no longer be separated from their loved one as they navigate the complex, time-consuming path to become a US citizen.

While the rule change will take some time to take effect, former state legislator Lorenzo Sierra said the impact has been felt immediately.

“My guy that does my A/C, his wife is DACA, married for nine years. She’s overcome with emotion,” Sierra told The Copper Courier. “For folks like that, this is a life-altering day, and I’m just so happy for the hundreds of thousands of people nationally, and roughly 15,000 Arizonans, that are going to be affected by this.”

The announcement builds upon actions taken during Biden’s first stint in the White House, when the Obama administration announced a protected status for undocumented individuals who came to the US as minors, known as the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While there has been no universal pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, the updated process for mixed-status households will open the doors for thousands who have benefited from DACA.

Sierra credited President Joe Biden specifically for the new rule change, and described it as a pattern of compassion he’s seen at both the national and personal level.

“Joe Biden is someone who really cares about other human beings. And I know this personally because when I was on a ventilator with COVID, he personally reached out to my wife,” Sierra said. “He just checked in with her just to make sure I was ok. So I know that this is a man who truly cares about people, and this is a man who’s going to do the right thing by the most amount of people.”


Infusion of skilled labor

In addition to the changes to citizenship applications, the Biden administration also announced additional efficiencies for work visa applicants. While the specifics have yet to be announced, the US State Department has been instructed to process applications more quickly for applicants who have a job offer relevant to their field of study so they can obtain their visa by the time their employment begins.

There are 35,000 undocumented Arizonans who either have a college degree or are currently enrolled in one of the state’s higher education institutions, but a cumbersome work visa process often prevents undocumented grads from finding a job in their field of study. The expedited process is designed to help grads enter the workforce quickly and retain high-skilled labor that might otherwise look elsewhere for work.

In a state currently experiencing a shortage of high-skilled labor, the influx of workers could solve a workforce bottleneck. Investments resulting from another Biden initiative—the CHIPS and Science Act—have brought $500 billion to Arizona’s semiconductor industry, but production has been delayed due to worker shortages.

“We’re going to be one of the world’s leading chip makers—not only because of the CHIPS Act, but because we’ve got the talent,” Sierra said. “Allowing some of these students, who would otherwise have that cloud over their head, be able to get through college, get that great job offer from one of the chip manufacturing facilities that we have here in Arizona—it is going to be just great for our overall economy.”

Studies have shown that, in general, the economic benefit of immigration increases when citizenship is obtained and employment is accessible. In addition to filling a workforce gap through expedited visas, the streamlined citizenship process for undocumented spouses is expected to infuse an additional $358 million into the economy and bring in more than $120 million in additional tax revenue.


  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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