Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bill Tries to Roll Visa Backlog Forward

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

Over 22,000 family-based visas went unused last year (Orange County Register). "The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have consistently failed to use the allotted number of immigrant visas ("green cards") authorized by Congress," according to Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

Bill to "Recapture" Unused Visas

To address the issue of wasted visas, Rep. Lofgren introduced H.R. 5882, which allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) to "recapture" green cards unused in prior years due to processing backlogs. In addition, the bill allows DHS and DOS to take unused green cards from one fiscal year and "roll them over" to the next year.

Why Do Visas Go Unissued? - Hearing Emphasizes Thousands of Unused Visas

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and DOS officials who testified at a Congressional hearing last month, concerns of exceeding the legal limit of visas lead to visas going unused each year. While DOS processes visas for individuals overseas, USCIS processes visas for individuals already in the United States. Visas issued by DOS and green cards granted by USCIS draw down from the "same pool of limited numbers," according to Michael Aytes, USCIS Associate Director for Domestic Operations.

Testimony given at the hearing indicated that lack of updated technology continues to hinder efficiency. Aytes said that USCIS is "dealing with very basic systems that give us inventory control and the ability to manage the processing cases at a very basic level."

Action Needed: Recommendations

Addressing the current processing backlog requires focus, institutional coordination and cooperation by DOS and USCIS. AFSC supports both measures to reduce backlogs that delay immigrants' ability to become U.S. permanent residents and the removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the normalization of immigration status.