Biden Restarts Green Card Processing from Abroad

Massive backlog, limited consular operations remain challenges

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 1, 2021
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green card packet

​President Joe Biden ended the ban that the Trump administration put into place last spring on green card processing from abroad. The ban was set to expire on March 31.

Biden challenged Trump's claims that the ban was needed to protect U.S. jobs during the pandemic. Trump's presidential proclamation, issued in April 2020 as COVID-19 was shutting down the U.S. economy, eventually barred the issuance of green cards to about 660,000 people, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute. The vast majority of those were seeking family-based visas. Most employment-based green card cases are processed from within the U.S. and were not included in the ban.

"The visa prohibition prevented some talented employment-based applicants from entering, but most of the people affected were diversity visa lottery winners, as well as family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, who were prevented from joining their families in the United States," said Marko Maglich, an attorney in the White Plains, N.Y., office of Jackson Lewis.

The Trump administration's ban affecting certain guest worker visa categories remains in effect and is set to expire on March 31. "This means that some H-1B and L-1 individuals are still barred from obtaining visas to enter the U.S.," said Andrew Wilson, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman and co-leader of the firm's Immigration Practice in Buffalo, N.Y. "Rescinding Presidential Proclamation 10052 [concerning temporary work visas] would have a bigger effect on employers, as it would once again allow them to process H-1B and L-1 visas for certain employees," he said. 

Problems Remain

Wilson characterized the lifting of the green card ban a "Pyrrhic victory," as it was set to expire in another month and the damage from it has already been done.

"Officially ending the visa ban is the easy part," he said. "The tough task now is to clear that enormous backlog of cases at the consulates. The ban is still causing problems until consulates can timely schedule interviews and process these visas. That will not happen overnight. Compounding the backlog dilemma is the fact that we are still dealing with limited consular operations because of COVID-19."

He added that there are separate travel bans from certain parts of the world that employers still need to address.

"The other travel ban that has been making it difficult for businesses to function is the 14-day ban that prohibits U.S. entry by individuals who have been in over 30 countries, including China, Iran, the U.K., Ireland, the 26 Schengen countries, Brazil and South Africa, in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the United States," Maglich said. "This ban, unlike the [green card and guest worker] visa bans, is based on COVID-19-related health concerns."

Policy Reversals

President Biden's announcement lifting the green card ban is the latest example of his efforts to roll back President Trump's changes to the immigration system. On his first day in office, Biden signed several immigration-related executive orders, including reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and ending travel restrictions on 13 countries that were deemed to have failed to meet U.S. security and information-sharing standards. 

Biden has also proposed an expansive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, including creating a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, increasing the number of employment-based visas and incentivizing higher wages for H-1B workers so as not to displace U.S. workers.

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