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Vanishing Green Cards Dash Hopes, Spark Litigation

September 28, 2021 (2 min read)

Deepa Fernandes, Tal Kopan, San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 28, 2021

"Because of COVID and other Trump administration restrictions in fiscal year 2020, an extra 120,000 green cards were added to the annual allotment for all immigrants applying based on employment this year, almost doubling the number available and offering a rare opportunity to cut into the backlog filled mostly with Indian nationals. ... Days before the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, when any unallocated green cards are forfeited, more than 80,000 visas have not been issued and aren’t expected to be.  These unused green cards, which allow foreign nationals to permanently live and work in the U.S., will essentially evaporate, leaving many in the queue livid.  “It’s a psychological nightmare for the people waiting in line,” said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-based immigration attorney representing dozens of immigrants in a lawsuit against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services over the delays. “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 is caused by a little-known part of U.S. immigration law that limits the number of immigrants from any one country who can get a green card each year. The country-cap rule has created an ever-growing wait time primarily for Indian and Chinese immigrants working and living in the U.S. because they are by far the biggest groups arriving as high-skilled foreign workers.  For people from most countries in the world, there is virtually no wait time; they get their figurative doughnut and coffee within a year as not enough immigrants arrive in the U.S. from those places each year to hit the country’s cap. But for a few countries, predominantly India and China in the employment-based category, wait times are so long that some immigrants will die before they can get a green card. ... [I]mmigrants and their attorneys are furious that President Biden’s administration did not do more to avert the waste, and that the agency doesn’t recognize the real human impacts of more time spent without permanent residency status. While they acknowledge the Trump administration exacerbated the problem with its hard-line anti-immigration tactics that specifically constrained USCIS, they criticize the Biden administration for not immediately increasing resources to the division that processes green cards.  “This is an affront by the immigration agency to its customers that paid extraordinary amounts of money for a timely service that they are apparently incapable of providing,” said Kuck. “The cavalier manner that the acting deputy director dismissed the (concerns) in federal court on this issue is shocking. … There appears to have been no effort made to prioritize the use of this maybe once-in-a-generation number of visas to dig into a pressing backlog.” "