Although there has been much attention given to the “legalization” provisions of the “Build Back Better” Act (passed by the House of Representatives on November 18), less has been paid to the general immigration provisions of the Act. Stuart Anderson, writing in Forbes
, described them as the “most significant legislative provisions for high-skilled immigrants since Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990…”
One provision would recapture unused family or employment immigrant visa numbers going back to FY 1992 — estimated to be as many as 400,000 visas. Many of these visa numbers were lost during the pandemic as borders were closed and visa processing stalled at U.S. consulates around the world. Recapturing these green cards would help restore the immigrant population in the United States to the level that Congress had originally intended and fill labor shortages crippling the U.S. economy.
Relying on these recaptured visa numbers, another provision in the Act would attempt to clear the backlog in all existing legal immigration categories. A green card applicant, who has an approved petition that is more than two years old and meets other requirements, can pay a supplemental fee of $1,500 to adjust status to permanent resident. This provision would especially benefit people from populous countries such as India and China who have been waiting in long queues because of statutory limits on the number of people that can be granted permanent residence from any one country during a single fiscal year. A final provision would allow winners of the Diversity Visa Lotteries from FY 2017 to FY 2021 to reclaim their visas if they were denied entry to the U.S. because of the pandemic.
The “legalization” provisions would cover roughly 7 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. To qualify, immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2011, and have lived in the country continuously since then. They would be granted “parole” – a form of Congressional authority to admit people into the U.S. who would not otherwise qualify under existing immigration law. Parole, in and of itself, does not provide a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship, unless the paroled immigrant could qualify for “adjustment of status” through an existing family preference or employment category. However, parole would enable them to work legally in the U.S. Their work permits would be valid for five years, and could be renewed one time, extending protections through September 2031. It remains to be seen whether these provisions will survive or be amended in the Senate.