Posted on November 8, 2021

Democrats Push Fix for Green-Card Logjam in Social-Spending Bill

Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2021

Immigrants caught in yearslong green-card backlogs could become permanent residents in the U.S. much faster because of a little-noticed immigration provision tucked into Democrats’ $1.85 trillion social-spending and climate package.

While Democrats haggle over the size and scope of legal protections for so-called Dreamers and other immigrants in the country illegally, they have also included a measure in the House bill that would recover hundreds of thousands of unused green cards over the last several decades and make them available to applicants waiting in line. Under the proposal, the unused green cards, which confer permanent U.S. residency, would be “recaptured” or put back in circulation and remain available until they are issued.

Green cards are typically awarded to immigrants who have family ties to the U.S. or are being sponsored by an employer. In many categories, such as for employment-based applicants, the overall number of green cards handed out per year is capped, and unused slots expire at the end of each year.

The U.S. also limits the number of green cards it hands out to nationals of each country, meaning applicants from countries with high levels of immigration to the U.S. may wait years to become a permanent resident. For Indians being sponsored by their employers, and family members of U.S. citizens from countries including Mexico, China and the Philippines, the wait can last decades.

“If you are coming from certain countries, you could wait up to 20 years before reuniting with your families,” said John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, one of the lead organizations pushing to recover green cards.

In all, about four million people sponsored by a family member are in line for a green card that will allow them to come to the U.S., according to government figures. About 1.2 million more people who are sponsored by an employer—and typically already here on temporary visas—are also waiting for a green card.

The proposed measure would recover about 400,000 green cards, slightly over half for families and the rest for employers, according to a Congressional aide familiar with the estimate. Additional measures would allow immigrants to jump ahead in line for an extra fee.


The measure still faces multiple hurdles.

It must meet the strict criteria that govern the Senate budget process, and so allow Democrats to pass their package under the chamber’s so-called reconciliation procedure. That allows passage with just 51 votes rather than the usual 60, meaning they won’t need any Republican support. To qualify, a measure must have a significant impact on the federal budget.

Two previous immigration proposals weren’t allowed by Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, but Congressional aides say they believe the green-card provision is likely to survive. {snip}

Democrats were hoping to include the immigration measure in the broader bill to create a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, including Dreamers, who were brought to the country as children. If the parliamentarian allows the green-card provision but rejects the path to citizenship, Democrats will have to decide whether to move forward.