As many as 80,000 unused employment-based green cards are set to expire today due to processing backlogs, leaving foreign-born workers who were hoping to gain permanent residency stuck on temporary visas.
The tenuous status is bound to have an impact on employers. While individuals affected will likely be able to continue working legally while they wait, employers may face renewed paperwork hurdles as their employees, who didn’t receive green cards, endure perennial visa renewals that require an employer’s sign off and more.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically issues 140,000 employment-based green cards per year. These allow employers to sponsor immigrant workers to become legal permanent residents. They differ from family-based green cards, which are issued to those with family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
But the U.S. began the last fiscal year, which kicked off October 1, 2020, with far more employment-based green cards than usual: 260,000, according to Axios. That’s because fewer people applied for family-based visas in 2020, and unused family-based visas get moved into the employment-based category the following year. However, instead of reducing its existing backlog, the agency handed out fewer green cards than normal, because of the pandemic and ongoing money issues, according to the Wall Street Journal. Any green cards that aren’t used before the start of the next fiscal year–which begins today–will expire.
The vast majority of applicants for employment-based green cards are already in the U.S. and have some form of legal status through a temporary work visa such as the H-1B program for highly-skilled workers, says Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, an nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. He adds that many have already been waiting years for permanent residency and won’t be deterred by this setback: “If they’ve been waiting that long, there’s probably not that much longer to wait.”
Many of the affected immigrants are highly educated workers employed at Silicon Valley tech firms, and business leaders have spoken up on their behalf. Microsoft and Google told Axios that thousands of their workers are waiting for green cards, and Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote last month to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas encouraging the Biden administration to speed up processing and find ways to preserve expired employment-based green cards.
Democrats had hoped to include provisions in their $3.5 trillion budget package to “recapture” employment-based and family-based green cards that haven’t been used, potentially making permanent residency available to hundreds of thousands of people, the Journal reported. The House Judiciary Committee approved the provisions, but they face an uncertain fate in the Senate, as the overall bill remains mired by political hand-wringing.