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Jumpstart Act
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The government has failed to issue thousands of available green cards, leaving approved applicants stalled in decades-long backlogs. The Jumpstart Act would recapture wasted green cards and help families to finally exit the backlogs.

A husband and wife, temporary visa holders stuck in green card backlogs, smile together
Sudarshan Bhat, right, and his wife Preethi Rao at their home in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, January 18, 2018. Bhat has been in the U.S. for about 11 years on an H-1B visa and, at this rate, he won't get his green card for another 50+ years. He is one of thousands of Indians living in the U.S. who are stuck in Green Card backlog so bad that they are more likely to die before they get permanent residency into the U.S. Without a green card, people like Sudi live in constant uncertainty if they will get their H-1B visa renewed. And after investing in a house, car and life here in the U.S. -- leaving the country isn't much of an option.
"The growing backlogs have been further exacerbated by the fact that hundreds of thousands of green cards under the annual numerical limitations were never issued."

Green card backlogs are breaking the immigration system

Declining immigration levels, including the near-total collapse of employment- and family-based immigration in recent years, have spurred labor shortages and hindered growth as the U.S. economy continues to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These declines are due in part to Congress’s failure to meaningfully update existing avenues for immigration in more than 30 years. Outdated numerical caps on the number of visas issued each year have created decades-long backlogs for individuals who have been approved for green cards but must wait until one is available for them.

A chart illustrating that 5 million people are stuck waiting in green card backlogs, including nearly 4 million family-sponsored individuals and nearly 1 million employment-sponsored individuals

Because of family-based immigration backlogs, roughly 4 million people with approved green card applications are waiting to be reunited with their family members who are in the U.S. More than 400,000 individuals already living and working in the U.S. on temporary visas are waiting for employment-based green card availability; including their dependent spouses and children, the backlog includes just under 1 million individuals.

The backlogs have been made worse by the government’s failure in past years to issue hundreds of thousands of green cards that were supposed to be available under the annual numerical limitations. Year after year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued fewer green cards than were was authorized, often because of bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies. Even though Congress included statutory language to ensure that green cards not issued in one year would be added to the next year’s available total, the poorly constructed formula has prevented thousands of green cards each year from “rolling over,” meaning the government never issued any of these visas. (For more information and examples about green card waste, read our explainer here).

Authorized green cards are likely to continue to go to waste this year; USCIS estimates that the number of available employment-based visas is twice as many as the usual cap, and the agency may not be able to issue all of them. Unfortunately, most if not all of the unissued employment-based green cards will likely not carry over to next year if Congress fails to act.

The Jumpstart Act would help reduce green card backlogs by recapturing an estimated 379,000 unused green cards.

The Jumpstart Act would recapture nearly 400,000 previously wasted green cards

The Jumpstart our Legal Immigration System Act (H.R. 7374), called the Jumpstart Act, would help reduce green card backlogs by recapturing an estimated 379,000 unused green cards (222,000 for family and 157,000 for employment) that were authorized but never issued since the numerical limits were implemented in 1992. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Jumpstart Act in April 2022.1

The legislation would not increase immigration levels nor make anyone newly eligible for immigration benefits; rather, it would temporarily increase the number of green cards that can be issued each year until the recaptured pool of green cards is exhausted, so that individuals waiting in backlogs can more quickly receive the green cards for which they have already been approved.

The Jumpstart Act would also fix the formula so that unused green cards in the employment- and family-based categories are not wasted, but instead are carried over and made available to eligible individuals in the following year.

Additionally, the Jumpstart Act would allow individuals who were selected for diversity visas to maintain their eligibility and claim their visas. They were unable to claim them due to the Trump Administration’s immigration, travel, and COVID-19 bans.

The early filing provision would allow individuals to pay a fee for the opportunity to submit their adjustment of status application before a visa number is available.

Early filing and cap exemption provisions would further reduce backlogs and help families

Importantly, the Jumpstart Act also includes two significant changes to the adjustment of status process for immigrants in the United States who are already approved for green cards and are seeking to adjust from a temporary to a permanent status.

Under current law, individuals who have been sponsored for a green card have to wait for a visa number to become available before they can file to adjust their status and receive the green card. Because of the backlogs, some individuals who have been approved for green cards expect to wait many years, even decades, until a visa number is available for them.

The early filing provision would allow individuals to pay a fee to submit their adjustment of status application before a visa number is available. While this would not change their wait time in the backlogs, it would allow individuals to access the benefits of having applied to adjust their status, including the ability to travel abroad and apply for a work permit that would allow them to change jobs or even employers while waiting for an available visa number. It would also preserve their children’s dependent status, protecting them from aging out and losing status.

The Jumpstart Act would also allow individuals who have waited at least two years since having initially been granted approval for a green card to pay a fee to be exempted from numerical limits on annual green card issuances. This would allow them to bypass the backlog and adjust their status without waiting for an available visa number. Allowing individuals to bypass numerical limits could substantially reduce the backlog because more individuals could adjust than are added to the backlog each year.

Additionally, allowing individuals to bypass numerical limits and adjust status earlier would save USCIS from having to continually process renewals and other benefits for these individuals and their children.

Additional fees would help fund further backlog reduction efforts

The Jumpstart Act would impose a number of new fees, including fees for the adjustment of status benefits as well as supplemental fees for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa filings.

USCIS is primarily fee-funded, meaning it generates its operating revenue from the fees it charges for its services. The Jumpstart Act proposes new fees to pay for early filing and cap exemption processing, as well as additional new fees on nonimmigrant visa and employment authorization document applications to help fund further backlog reduction efforts.

The first $400,000,000 in fees collected under the Jumpstart Act would be set aside for USCIS expenses, including application processing, backlog reduction, and support for refugee and asylum programs.

Proposed fees for adjustment of status provisions in the Jumpstart Act

Immigration CategoryEarly FilingCap ExemptionSupplemental Fees
Family Preference (all)$1,500, plus $250 per derivative$2,500$100
EB-1, 2, 3$3,000$7,500$800
EB-5$15,000$100,000$15,000
Nonimmigrant Visas (E, H-1B, L, O, or P)n/an/a$500
EAD for Dependent Spouse (E, H, L)n/an/a$500

Congress should pass legislation like the Jumpstart Act to help bring fairness and efficiency to the U.S. legal immigration system.

Congress must act to reduce green card backlogs

Congress must make eliminating green card backlogs an urgent priority. Last month, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security heard testimony from expert witnesses about the harmful impacts of the backlogs on our economic growth and global competitiveness. The subcommittee also heard testimony from Athulya Rajakumar, a daughter of immigrants whose future is in peril because of the backlog’s harmful impacts. If Congress fails to act, more families will suffer and many will ultimately choose to abandon the U.S. altogether and take their talents elsewhere.

Congress should pass legislation like the Jumpstart Act to help bring fairness and efficiency to the U.S. immigration system, keep millions of families together, and strengthen the U.S. workforce to meet the economic challenges of the future.

Notes

  1. The Jumpstart Act is modeled on language passed by the House of Representatives as part of the Build Back Better Act in November 2021. The comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) that passed the Senate in 2013 included provisions for recapture, and multiple other bipartisan green card recapture proposals have been introduced in this Congress.
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