Up to 80,000 Unused Green Cards for Workers Set to Expire Friday

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Immigrants in a year-long backlog, most of whom are Indian tech workers, are disappointed that their chance of permanent residency in the US will disappear unless Congress takes action

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But immigration officials have been unable to process windfall benefits, adding to the frustration felt by many of the 1.2 million immigrants to and from India who work in the tech sector—who are sponsored for green cards and They will continue to operate on temporary visas that limit limits. Their ability to change jobs or travel. Congress is considering a number of possible legislative solutions, but they have been mired in a wider debate on immigration that takes place on both sides.

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“I feel helpless,” said Kailash Pawar, a pediatrician in Kansas City, who moved to the US for his medical residency and first applied for a green card in 2013.

This August, Dr. Pawar’s number came up and filed the final round of his application, but he still hasn’t got a green card – and that’s unlikely to happen today, given the end of the fiscal year, which is turning the clock. resets. He fears that, with so many slots lying unutilized in this financial year, he may not be eligible next year.

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The issue arose during the last fiscal year due to the pandemic, when the US closed its consulates abroad, resulting in far fewer green cards being issued to family members of US citizens than usual. Any family-based green card that is not used in one year is switched to the employment-based category the next year. But if those green cards also go unused, they effectively disappear from the system when the new fiscal year begins on Friday morning.

According to agency officials, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency primarily in charge of legal immigration, does not have the capacity to process all of them. Earlier this week the agency estimated last week it would waste 75,000 to 80,000 green cards, but now expects the final number to be lower, an official said.

The agency has been plagued by money problems and low processing capacity since the start of the pandemic, and only this summer began processing green cards at a faster rate. The official said the Biden administration, which prioritized faster processing, encouraged immigration officials to skip repetitive steps — including waiving a fingerprint requirement if the immigrant submitted fingerprints with a previous visa application. had done.

Slow processing of green cards has become a priority for Silicon Valley companies, which employ many immigrants awaiting their green cards and feel pressure from their employees to advocate on their behalf.

“It’s a self-inflicted wound that makes it less likely that talented people will choose to invest their skills and their future in America,” said Jack Chen, associate general counsel for Microsoft Corp.

USCIS spokesman Matthew Bourke said the agency is “reviewing all policies, operating procedures and options under the law” that would allow it to issue more green cards, or unused slots, as of today, the last day of the government’s fiscal year. will end it. until next year. Mr Bourke also noted that despite unused green cards, the agency has processed more this year than ever in its history.

Similar constraints in the system resulted in about 150,000 family-based green cards going unused this year. Most of those applicants live abroad and were also prevented from applying for visas in the US due to consulate closures and a patchwork of COVID-based travel restrictions.

Democrats had hoped to help backlogged immigrants by including provisions in their $3.5 trillion climate and social-policy budget package that would reclaim green cards unused over the past three decades, and extras to keep immigrants moving in line. will be allowed to pay the fee.

Both the employment-based and family-based green card categories will benefit from the provision to retrieve unused visas, and aides in Congress estimate that it will result in hundreds of thousands of new green cards being available.

The provisions passed through the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, but their fate is more uncertain in the Senate, where it looks increasingly unlikely that Democrats will be able to use the budget package to provide a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants. Will be country illegally.

Allies in Congress believe the provisions helping the green-card backlog are more likely to survive the Senate lawmaker, who said such measures are “vulnerable” to the path of citizenship, he said this month. was denied in one opinion at the beginning.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D., NJ), an influential Senate voice on immigration issues, suggested he was unwilling to support measures to help legal immigrants working in high-skill occupations. were, if measures to help immigrants are not a path to legalization. Abandoned.

“I think other immigration things, especially for businesses, are not going to happen if we don’t have any way for some sort of status adjustment for the undecided. I wouldn’t support that,” he said.

Proponents of changing green-card policy are dismayed by that argument.

“It’s an unfortunate way of thinking, because every immigrant here is a human being, and here are the humans they can help,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY). said the colleague. )

Meanwhile, Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) plans to introduce a bill next week that would reclaim any unused employment-based green cards in the past two years, a number estimated to hold about 92,000 slots. will recover.

Mr Tillis plans to introduce the bill using a measure known as unanimous consent, but already two Republican senators – Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas – have indicated they would object.

Some Republicans prefer a variety of methods for reducing the backlog. Mr. Lee has sponsored a bill that would remove the per-country cap that enables 7% of green card Indian expatriates to go each year – at least until there are more eligible applicants from other countries. This solution would not increase the total number of green cards granted in any given year, and some Republicans oppose such an increase.

The backlog could increase next year without changes to the existing law. The government estimates that around 150,000 family-based green cards were not granted this year, and all of them will fall into the employment-based green card category from Friday.

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