By Jon Taets
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As part of continued efforts on Capitol Hill to find new ways to help alleviate the labor shortage issues being felt by employers, U.S. lawmakers are once again turning toward the green card system with plans to boost funding for the immigrant visa program and prevent unused visas from expiring.
Each year there are usually a number of family and employment-based immigrant visa numbers that go unused because of backlogs in processing needed paperwork. Those usual backlogs were exacerbated by staffing and funding shortages at the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), with some estimates indicating there may be tens of thousands of unused visa allotments from 2020 and 2021 alone.
As Bloomberg Government reported, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee released all of its fiscal year 2022 spending bills on Monday. The legislation covering USCIS includes a provision which prevents those unused visas from expiring, making them eligible for reuse in fiscal year 2022. Coupled with a significant increase in the overall funding for USCIS, which is largely supported via immigration-related fees, this could produce a significant boost in the number of green cards issued next year. The hope is that those new immigrants, many coming in to reunite with family members already in the U.S., would provide a new labor pool for domestic employers.
This is not the first time this idea has been proposed nor is the appropriations bill the only chance it has for success. Similar language was included in the House version of the fiscal 2021 appropriations bill covering USCIS, but it didn’t survive the final negotiations on the massive omnibus spending bills that ultimately passed to fund the federal government for this year.
There is also more expansive language included in the so-called reconciliation legislation that would actually seek to reclaim unused visa numbers going back as far as 1992. While the status of that entire bill remains in limbo, the ability of such language to pass through the procedural hurdles required in the Senate to be included in such a package remains an open question.
The idea has bipartisan support. North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis has backed legislation to recapture unused visa numbers from fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021. Previous immigration-related legislation passed in 2000 and 2005, sponsored by Republicans, included similar provisions. We’ll have to watch and see whether that history and current bipartisan support is enough to shepherd a proposal like this through such hotly contested immigration debates in a bitterly divided Congress.
Jon Taets is NACS director of government relations.