Congresswoman Lofgren’s bill will recapture 380,000 unused family, employment visas

iNDICA News Bureau

An influential group in the House of Representatives has introduced a bill that seeks to recapture nearly 380,000 family- and employment-sponsored immigrant visas from the past 30 years to reduce the country’s massive green card backlog.

The legislation will 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. owing to various executive orders or COVID-related restrictions.

Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), who chairs the Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced HR 7374, the Jumpstart Our Legal Immigration System Act, earlier this week.

The measure will recapture unused family- and employment-based visas and allow 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 it upon paying a fee.

Both provisions were part of the version of the Build Back Better Act passed by the House of Representatives.

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 Congressman Ritchie Torres (NY-15).

“We all know our immigration system is dysfunctional and has been in dire need of reform for decades,” Lofgren said. “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, she said, these limitations had led to backlogs that no one had imagined 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,” Lofgren said. “That will enhance our country’s competitive advantage and our position as a global leader in innovation.”

Nadler added, “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. Our immigration system is in desperate need of reform and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Nadler said the legislation has the potential to recapture 222,000 family- and 157,000 employment- based visas, create an accelerated path to adjustment of status for those already here, and give much-need funds to the 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,” the Judiciary Committee chair added.

“There are over four million people in the family immigration backlogs waiting to be reunited with their loved ones,” Congresswoman Chu said. “Recapturing unused visas that were lost to delays and bureaucracy would help ease the already burdensome backlogs for immigrant families and workers.”

The Congresswoman from California said the new law would not only help to alleviate these “years-long” wait times for families, but also ensure that “we honor the diversity visas that were earned but denied based on the Trump administration’s cruel Muslim and African bans”.

Congresswoman Torres said that from his first days in office, President Biden had 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. The Jumpstart Our Legal Immigration System Act will begin to address the visa backlog that has prevented hundreds of thousands of family- and employment-based visas to enter the U.S. while also providing relief for diversity visa winners impacted by the Trump Muslim ban.”

The New York Democrat said he was proud to support legislation that would bring “much-needed reform to our immigration system”.

According to the most recent data from the State Department, around four million individuals are waiting in the family-sponsored immigrant visa backlog and a million in the employment-based immigrant visa backlog.

The legislation amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to prevent future loss of unused employment-based visas by ensuring that they roll over to the family-based categories as Congress intended.

Further, the 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.