One of the big issues President Joe Biden says he plans to tackle in his early days in office is immigration. The Biden administration is expected to propose legislation that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of undocumented individuals in the United States. 

“The big deal with this bill is essentially what is going to be an amnesty and I think that’s what a lot of people are really interested in and that’s the pathway to citizenship they call it," says Michael Freestone, an immigration attorney with Tully Rinckey's Washington D.C. office. 

Freestone explains that the plan would be for undocumented individuals to be able to apply for temporary status for three years. After that, they would be able to apply for a green card, good for another five years. After a total of eight years, they would be able to apply for citizenship. 

Freestone says the bill will likely include some elements similar to the Reagan-era amnesty. 

“There are a few sort of key takeaways from that that I’m sure will be included in this bill. And that’s individuals have to prove that they’ve been here without status, that they’ve been paying taxes if they’ve earned any income," says Freestone. 

He explains that the IRS has mechanisms in place to deal with situations where individuals do not have social security numbers. Freestone says undocumented individuals applying through the program would likely need to do a large tax filing to get up to date. 

Ultimately, Freestone says the plan will need to provide a pathway to citizenship that doesn't cripple the existing green card application process. 

“It’s going to be interesting because the way the U.S. immigration system works is there’s sort of a pot of green cards that are issued every year, immigrant visas we tend to call them, of about roughly 700,000," says Freestone,  "If we suddenly had 10 million people apply, the system would go into freefall."

Freestone says it is possible to write something into the legislation to prevent that from happening. He says one route the Biden administration might take is redesigning the green card system when it comes to families. Instead of requiring each person in the family to have a card, Freestone suggests they might just appoint one member of the family as the principal green card holder.