Immigrants stuck in chronic green card backlogs are poised to lose out on a policy solution in a government funding deal slated for release Tuesday.
The Department of Homeland Security spending bill will likely omit previously drafted provisions that would have salvaged unused immigrant visas from recent fiscal years beset by processing delays. House and Senate appropriators in bills proposed last year had included measures to recapture family- and employment-based immigrant visa numbers from fiscal 2020 and 2021.
“That’s probably not going to be included in the package,” Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the Senate’s top homeland security appropriator, said, noting that many policy provisions, known as riders, were taken off the table during negotiations.
The omission would be a blow to green-card seekers who have pushed for years for a legislative solution—even 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.
Lawmakers are racing to enact the spending bill before government funding runs out March 11. The bill needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate, requiring buy-in from both parties.
Murphy previously indicated the provisions could be tough to secure because of compromises Democrats and Republicans made to reach a deal on federal funding for fiscal 2022. Agencies have been operating on stopgap funding for months.
Green card waste stems from processing delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, even as applicants for family- and employment-based visas wait decades for permanent status. Workers from India and China face particularly long waits because of caps on visas based on country of origin.
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.
Democrats’ stalled Build Back Better social spending and climate package would have salvaged unused green cards going back to 1992. The appropriations proposals were narrower, focusing on lost numbers from the past couple of years. The structure of the proposed recapture would have helped those in the family visa category more than those in the employment queue.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at [email protected]