(Updates throughout with additional reporting.)
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Immigrants stuck in chronic green card backlogs lost out on a policy solution in a government funding deal lawmakers unveiled earlier Wednesday.
The Department of Homeland Security spending bill omits previously drafted provisions that would have salvaged unused immigrant visas from recent fiscal years beset by processing delays. House and Senate appropriators in bills proposed last year had included measures to recapture family- and employment-based immigrant visa numbers from fiscal 2020 and 2021.
Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the Senate’s top homeland security appropriator, previewed the move Tuesday, noting that many policy provisions had to be dropped during negotiations with Republicans.
“There was a limited appetite for those riders,” Murphy said, referring to policy provisions that lawmakers often try to attach to must-pass appropriations bills.
The omission is a blow to green-card seekers who have pushed for years for a legislative solution, as available green cards go unissued because federal officials can’t process applications quickly enough. More than 200,000 immigrant visas in the family and employment categories went to waste last year.
Lawmakers are racing to enact the spending bill before government funding runs out March 11. The bill needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate, requiring buy-in from both parties.
Green card waste stems from processing delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, even as applicants for family- and employment-based visas wait decades for permanent status. Workers from India and China face particularly long waits because of caps on visas based on country of origin.
Several Republicans support recapturing unused employment-based green cards, and have introduced legislation (S. 2828) to do so, but others in the party deride such measures as a threat to U.S. labor.
Democrats’ stalled Build Back Better social spending and climate package would have salvaged unused green cards going back to 1992. The appropriations proposals were narrower, focusing on lost numbers from the past couple of years. The structure of the proposed recapture would have helped those in the family visa category more than those in the employment queue.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org