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Immigration

Green card backlog: New bill introduced to recapture unused family and employment based visas

NRI Pulse Staff Report

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2022: House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) earlier this week, introduced H.R. 7374, the Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act, a bill that recaptures hundreds of thousands of unused family- and employment-based visas and allows individuals who are in the U.S. and eligible for a green card – but for the lack of an available visa number – to apply for their green card upon paying a fee. Both major provisions included in this bill were part of the House-passed version of the Build Back Better Act.

The Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act is co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27) and Ritchie Torres (NY-15).

“We all know that our immigration system is dysfunctional, and it has been in dire need of reform for decades,” said Chair Lofgren. “The basic framework for allocating immigrant visas dates back to the middle of the 20th century and was last seriously updated in 1990, when Congress established the worldwide numerical limits on visas and the 7% per-country cap that still exists today. Over time, these limitations have led to backlogs that were unimaginable in 1990. The Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act will help reduce the backlogs, thereby enabling immigrants to fully contribute to their communities and our national economy, while also allowing U.S. companies to attract and retain high-skilled workers. That will enhance our country’s competitive advantage and our position as a global leader in innovation.”

“By restoring the availability of immigrant visas lost due to COVID-19 or bureaucratic delay and enhancing green card processing, we are investing in our families and U.S. businesses,” said Chair Nadler. “Our immigration system is in desperate need of reform and this legislation is a vital step in the right direction. That is why I am proud to join Subcommittee Chair Lofgren in introducing the Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act, which will recapture some 400,000 family- and employment- based visas, create an accelerated path to adjustment of status for those already here, and give much need funds to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to improve visa processing. This legislation, much of which was included in the House-passed version of the Build Back Better Act, is a no-brainer for our communities and economy.”

“There are over four million people in the family immigration backlogs waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. Recapturing unused visas that were lost to delays and bureaucracy would help ease the already burdensome backlogs for immigrant families and workers,” said Rep. Chu. “The Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act will not only help to alleviate these YEARS LONG wait times for families, but it will also ensure that we honor the diversity visas that were earned but were denied based on the Trump administration’s cruel Muslim and African bans.”

“From his first days in office, President Biden acted swiftly to reverse the deeply damaging immigration policies of the Trump administration, yet it is no question that our immigration system has been broken for decades,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres. “The Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act will begin to address the visa backlog that has prevented hundreds-of-thousands family- and employment-based visas to enter the U.S., while also providing relief for diversity visa winners impacted by the Trump Muslim Ban. I am proud to support legislation that will finally bring much needed reform to our immigration system.”

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of State, there are currently around four million individuals waiting in the family-sponsored immigrant visa backlog and one million individuals waiting in the employment-based immigrant visa backlog.

This legislation amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to prevent the future loss of unused employment-based visas by ensuring that they roll over to the family-based categories as Congress intended. The bill also recaptures unused immigrant visas from 1992 through 2021 which would result in the recapture of:

  • Approximately 222,000 unused family-sponsored visas; and
  • Approximately 157,000 employment-based visas.

The legislation would also allow an estimated 40,000 individuals who were selected for, but did not receive, the diversity visa lottery to reapply for such visas. These individuals were unable to finalize the process or enter the U.S. due to various executive orders or COVID-related office closures and restrictions.

Further, the Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act allows individuals who are in the U.S. and eligible for adjustment to Legal Permanent Residence (LPR) status – but for the lack of an available visa number – to apply for adjustment upon paying a fee. This will allow individuals to receive work authorization while they wait for a visa number to become available and will prevent dependent children from “aging out” of eligibility for LPR status.

Finally, the legislation allows immigrants who are in the U.S. to receive an exemption from the immigrant visa numerical limits and adjust their status to a green card if their immigrant visa petition has been approved for two years and they pay a supplemental fee.

To adjudicate these applications and reduce case processing backlogs, the legislation includes $400 million for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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