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Hope Lost for a Green Card Backlog Fix

The Senate passed a $1.5 trillion dollar government funding package this week, sending the bill to President Biden’s desk for signature.

However, the bill did not include one of the key policy changes that a lot of Indian Immigrants stuck in a Green card backlog expected or hoped for.

USCIS has wasted more than 200,000 Green Cards in the year 2020-21. There was a rising demand from multiple corners to recapture those unused green cards this year, which would have given some respite to a lot of people who are stuck in this backlog.

GC backlog fix dropped from bill
GC backlog fix dropped from bill

Why is there a Backlog?

The government can issue up to 675,000 green cards each year. Of this number, 480,000 visas are reserved for “family preference” immigrants; 140,000 for employment-based immigrants; and 55,000 for Diversity Visa lottery winners. Any family-based green cards that are unused at the end of the fiscal year are added to the next year’s available employment-based green cards.

In addition to the limit set above for each category, the Congress has also set a limit on the number of Green Cards it can issue to people from a particular country – country of origin. Under this annual “country cap,” no single country of origin can account for more than 7% of the green cards in any particular category.

This is not a problem for people who are from smaller European or even African nations. The number of GCs available for them exceeds the demand. However, for countries like India, China, Mexico and Philippines, where the demand far exceeds the number of Green Cards available, it has caused a huge backlog.

Immigration Pointers in the new Budget Deal

The bill contains:

  • $275 million for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to put towards reducing application processing backlogs

  • reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

  • reauthorized the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program.

  • gave $200 million to build two permanent “processing centers” at the border for asylum seekers

  • $264 million increase in Border Patrol funding.

What the bill however, did not include is the plan to recapture unused green cards and provisions that would have provided legal assistance to immigrants in immigration court proceeding.

The omission is a blow to green-card seekers who have pushed for years for a legislative solution, as available green cards go unissued because federal officials can’t process applications quickly enough. More than 200,000 immigrant visas in the family and employment categories went to waste last year.

Several Republicans support recapturing unused employment-based green cards, and have introduced legislation (S. 2828) to do so, but others in the party deride such measures as a threat to U.S. labor.

Other Immigration News

Processing delays for work permits are worsening labor shortages and causing immigrants to lose out on employment opportunities.

Wait times have skyrocketed during the pandemic as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices and service centers closed around the country, worsening a backlog that now stands at nearly one million applications.

The average wait time for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, or work permit) is now eight to twelve months, up from about three months in 2020.


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