Young adults born in another country who came to the United States as children are often in danger of deportation after turning 21. This problem frequently arises for young Californians whose parents came here legally but have not yet received permanent residency.
Who is most at risk?
Immigration law allows for the minors of parents who come to the United States on student or work visas for educational institutions and similar professional jobs to remain here legally. These children technically have a dependent visa status. The problem arises from a backlog of green card applications, particularly from countries like India and China, which results in these children being unable to obtain their green cards prior to turning 21 when they are no longer considered dependents. Only about 7% of applicants from those countries waiting for green cards receive them during any given year.
This backlog creates a conundrum for young adults who know no other country except the United States yet face deportation once they turn 21. Their legal status is in limbo because these “documented dreamers” have no clear path to citizenship.
Possible options for young documented dreamers
Documented dreamers have few options when they turn 21. If they plan to pursue an advanced educational degree, they may be able to stay in the United States by applying for their own student visa. Other options include finding an employer who will sponsor them for a work visa, but these options may not be available to all documented dreamers.
Legislation may be the only assured solution for documented dreamers. Earlier in 2021, the U.S. House passed the American Dream and Promise Act to devise a pathway to citizenship for undocumented and documented dreamers as well as for those who hold temporary protected status. The Senate is now considering the bill. Another possibility is the America’s Children Act, which has not yet been voted upon by either legislative chamber. If Congress passes this legislation, dependent visa holders who have lived in the United States for nearly their entire lives would be able to maintain their legal status under their parents’ visas past the age of 21.