The White House said on Tuesday, June 18 that President Joe Biden is announcing “new actions for people who have been here many years to keep American families together and allow more young people to contribute to our economy.”

The new process, the White House said on Tuesday morning, “will help certain noncitizen spouses and children apply for lawful permanent residence – status that they are already eligible for – without leaving the country.”

The White House said that in order to be eligible for the new process, “noncitizens must – as of June 17, 2024 – have resided in the United States for 10 or more years and be legally married to a US citizen, while satisfying all applicable legal requirements.

“On average, those who are eligible for this process have resided in the US for 23 years.

“Those who are approved after DHS’s case-by-case assessment of their application will be afforded a three-year period to apply for permanent residency. They will be allowed to remain with their families in the United States and be eligible for work authorization for up to three years. This will apply to all married couples who are eligible.

“This action will protect approximately half a million spouses of US citizens, and approximately 50,000 noncitizen children under the age of 21 whose parent is married to a US citizen.”

Biden's executive action will additionally "allow individuals, including DACA recipients and other Dreamers, who have earned a degree at an accredited US institution of higher education in the United States, and who have received an offer of employment from a US employer in a field related to their degree, to more quickly receive work visas."

Fiona McEntee, who is from Ireland and now lives and works as an immigration attorney in Chicago as a dual US/Irish citizen, told IrishCentral on Tuesday morning that she welcomed the announcement from the White House.

“As immigration lawyers, we are delighted to see the President take such action to show that the administration wants to acknowledge and help people who have been living in the US for a significant amount of time," McEntee said.

She pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a sort of “give and take” after Biden announced new actions to secure the southern border of the US two weeks ago.

McEntee said the actions announced on Tuesday will offer "narrow protection" and that it is her understanding that they are for people "who came into the US without authorization."

She told IrishCentral: "People sometimes assume if you're married to a US citizen that you just get a green card. 

"One of the things that you need to prove if you're getting a green card is that you've made a legal entry.

"So for people who have not done that, it becomes pretty impossible for them to get a green card in the US.

"What they would have to do ordinarily would be to have to apply for a waiver, leave the US, go through this whole process while being separated from their families and a lot of people just don't want to take that chance of leaving and not being able to get back in."

As such, the new actions will likely not impact a large amount of undocumented Irish people in the US, as they typically - but not always - enter the US legally and then 'overstay' their visas.

McEntee said: “The big subgroup of people who are going to benefit from this are those who did not make a lawful entry and it’s because making a lawful entry is one of the things you have to prove if you’re getting a green card in the US.

“The benefit of being married to a US citizen - from a policy point of view - is that we are willing to forgive certain things.

"The two main things that we forgive through the law is we forgive people who have overstayed their visa and people who have worked without authorization.

“We can’t forgive everything, the law doesn’t allow you to forgive everything, but it does allow you to forgive those two big things.

“A lot of times, Irish people fall into that bucket, where they’ve overstayed and they’ve been working. For those reasons, they’re able to apply to get a green card through an adjustment process where they can stay in the US and those things get forgiven through the course of applying for a green card.”

McEntee added: “You can’t forgive everything. If someone’s an aggravated felon or has some really serious criminal stuff, that can’t be forgiven.

“Unlawful entry is also something that can’t be forgiven the way the process is right now.

“This [Biden's new actions] kind of cures that for people who could otherwise benefit from getting a green card.

"It really is transformational for a lot of people."

Last October, TD Brendan Smith said in the Dáil that the best estimate available to Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs is that there are fewer than 10,000 Irish people in the US who are undocumented.

Later on Tuesday, President Biden spoke about his new executive order at the White House.

"[This is about] keeping together couples who are married, where one spouse is an American citizen and the other is undocumented. They've been living in the United States for at least ten years. These couples have been raising families, sending their kids to church and school, paying taxes, contributing to our country for ten years or more.

"As a matter of fact, the average time they've spent here is 23 years, people who are affected today, but living in the United States all this time with fear and uncertainty.

"We can fix that, and that's what I'm going to do today."

Biden says his executive action "doesn't require any fundamental change in our immigration law.

"There's already a system in place for the people we're talking about today, but the process is cumbersome, risky, and it separates families.

"Under the current process, undocumented spouses of US citizens must go back to their home country - Mexico, for example - fill out paperwork, and obtain long-term legal status.

"They have to leave their families in America with no assurance that they'll be allowed back in the United States. So they stay in America, but in the shadows, living in constant fear of deportation without the ability to legally work.

"All of this, even though under the law today, they're eligible for long-term legal status.

"Today, I'm announcing a commonsense fix to streamline the process for obtaining legal status for immigrants married to American citizens who live here and have lived here for a long time.

"For those wives or husbands and their children who have lived in America for a decade or more that are undocumented, this action will allow them to file paperwork for legal status in the United States allowing them to work while they remain with their families in the United States.

"Let's be clear: this action still requires undocumented spouses to file all required legal paperwork to remain in the United States, requires them to pass a criminal background check, and it doesn't apply to anyone trying to come here today.

"This action is a better way. It doesn't tear families apart while requiring every undocumented spouse to fulfill their obligations under the law.

"The actions I'm announcing today will go into effect later this summer."

You can watch President Biden's remarks here: