The Feds Wasted 66,000 Green Cards in the Middle of a Worker Shortage

Federal immigration officials issued about 66,000 fewer employment-based green cards than allowed by law last year—despite one of the tightest labor markets in recent American history and apparently without regard for the millions of would-be immigrants waiting in line for a green card.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that a sharp downturn in legal immigration—due to policies implemented by the Trump administration and the shuttering of many immigration offices during the COVID-19 pandemic—is one of the driving factors behind the country’s labor force imbalance. More than 11 million jobs are available in America, with only 6 million workers unemployed. That means the unemployment rate has fallen to a near-record low—but it could fall all the way to zero and there would still be leftover demand for more workers.

It is good to know that more than 1.4million would-be immigrant are waiting for a green card on employment basis from the federal government. Recent State Department data shows that only 195.507 of the available 262,288 green card options were granted in fiscal year 2021.

According to David J. Bier (a researcher at the libertarian Cato Institute), this means that more than 66,000 green card expired last year without having been issued.

Although part of the problem can be attributed to bureaucratic incompetence at its core, there was also some intentionality. As Bier explained in The Washington Post last year, this mess began with the Trump administration’s decision in April 2020 to block immigrants sponsored by their family members from obtaining green cards. This meant that approximately 120,000 family-sponsored green card went unutilized in the 2020 fiscal year. Law says that unused visas can be transferred to employment-based greencards in the subsequent year.

This resulted in a significantly greater number of employment-based cards being available in 2021 than ever before. The annual allocation of 140,000 visas was included, as well the remaining 120,000 family sponsored green cards. But that rollover is good for only one additional year of eligibility—any unused employment-based green cards expired at the end of the fiscal year if they were still unawarded (including any that came over from the family-sponsored system). The fiscal year ended in 2021 saw nearly a rebound of green cards, although the rate of recovery was not fast enough for all of last year’s additional visas.

Biden’s administration fell short of the potential avalanche in green cards available to workers last year. Bier writes that the U.S. government failed to quickly make necessary changes to guarantee every green card was issued.

This is what Trump’s immigration restrictionsists wanted. The American immigration system was already hopelessly complex, but the changes implemented by the Trump administration have turned the immigration bureaucracy against the very people who are doing the thing conservatives usually say they want immigrants to do—wait in line and enter the country legally.

Biden has served more than a full year as President. He must now share responsibility for this bureaucratic mess. You can read more about this here. ReasonFiona Harrigan, a reporter for the State Department summarized January’s findings: “Two decades into the pandemic,” 60 percent U.S. consulates and embassies remain closed or partially shut down to process visa applications. Nearly 440,000 immigrant visa applicants whose cases are ‘documentarily complete’ are still waiting for visa appointments (the State Department scheduled just 26,605 appointments for this month). The nation’s refugee intake hit a record low in fiscal year 2021 and our numbers aren’t on pace to be any better in 2022. Legal immigration collapsed under Trump; it hasn’t rebounded under Biden.”

There are now some signs that we’re making progress. The U.S. states that it is making an effort to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS (March) announced plans for dealing with an “agency-wide” backlog of cases.

The announced changes aren’t encouraging confidence. USCIS states that it has a new goal to make sure that I-485 forms are processed in a timely manner. This is necessary before a person can apply for s e green card. Only six months.

America is in dire need of more workers. Not just permanent residents and those seeking green card status. The 66,000 wasted green cards last year and the waiting list for them are good examples of the problems with an immigration system that puts bureaucratic processes above the actual needs of the people and economy.

America needs people. Immigrants are waiting to be hired. Biden must get rid of bureaucrats.