Visa Crunch

Almost 80,000 US green cards set to expire on Friday, leaving foreign workers in a limbo

Thousands of unused green cards are expected to expire on Friday, frustrating many foreign workers who hoped to avoid relying on temporary work visas to remain in the United States. This fiscal year, there was a surplus of 120,000 employment-based green cards available, on top of the 140,000 the government already had. However, immigration officials have failed to process green cards quickly enough, leaving many of the 1.2 million foreign workers in the United States — many of whom are from India — to hope that their work visas, which limit their ability to change employment or travel, will be extended.

According to The Wall Street Journal, up to 80,000 of those green cards are currently useless. Furthermore, it’s likely that those excess green cards will vanish totally after they expire at the end of the day Friday (Oct. 1), meaning they won’t be available for distribution by US Customs and Immigration Services in the coming fiscal year. Charles Kuck, an immigration attorney representing scores of immigrants in a lawsuit against the US Citizenship and Immigration Services over the delays, told The Week, “It’s a psychological nightmare for the folks waiting in line.” “It’s like walking up to a kiosk and the guy in front of you gets his doughnut and coffee and you get up to the kiosk and they pull the shade down and wheel the cart away.”

The problem dates back to 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced the United States to suspend its overseas consulates, leading to fewer green cards being handed to family members of US citizens than expected, according to The Wall Street Journal. The unsold family-based green cards were added to the employment-based green card quota the next year. The additional green cards appeared to be an attempt by immigration officials to reduce the backlog of green card applicants.

However, a State Department official, Charlie Oppenheim, indicated in a July YouTube question-and-answer session that the agency could still have 100,000 green cards on the table by the end of September, when they are set to expire. Green card processing times are a source of anxiety for Silicon Valley firms, as many of its employees are not only green card applicants, but also rely on their employers to fight for them or continue to sponsor their work visas. Google, Microsoft, and Apple have asked federal officials to act before the expiration of the green cards.

According to Axios, Google revealed in September that only 13% of its candidate applications submitted since October were cleared. Apple CEO Tim Cook also penned a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week, requesting that the government solve the issue.

“The backlogs have generated anxiety for our employees and their families who have, in some circumstances, waited years to get permanent residency status,” Cook stated in the letter.  Green cards are especially important for parents who are in the United States on work visas since their children will lose legal status when they turn 21 if they do not have them. It really unclear when or if Congress or the White House will move to prevent the extra green cards from being wasted. As part of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure, the House Judiciary Committee developed various immigration reforms, including one that would permit each employment-based green card that went unused from 1992 through 2021 to be used in the next fiscal year. As per immigration law firm Reddy and Neumann, another proposal would provide USCIS with an additional $2.8 billion to reduce case processing backlogs.

However, those changes would still need to pass the Senate before becoming law, a proceeding that may take an unlimited period of time as the bill bounces back and forth between the two chambers, according to CQ Roll Call.

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