During the pandemic that attorneys said was blocking most legal immigration to the United States, President Joe Biden lifted a freeze on green cards issued by his predecessor. Last spring, former President Donald Trump stopped the issuance of green cards in the name of protecting the coronavirus-wracked job market until the end of 2020, a reason Trump gave to achieve many of the legal immigration cuts that had eluded him before the pandemic. These orders were extended to the end of March by Trump on December 31.
Trump considered immigrants a risk to the US labor market and, in issuing Proclamation 10014 and Proclamation 10052, blocked their entry to the United States.
In his Wednesday proclamation, Biden stated that closing the door on legal immigrants does not advance the interests of the United States. “On the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members from joining their families here of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. In the United States, it also damages industries that use talent from around the world, “In its proclamation, Biden stated.
According to immigration lawyers, many immigrant visas were blocked by the orders. According to the American Immigrant Lawyers Association, as many as 120,000 family-based preference visas were lost due largely to the pandemic-related freeze in the 2020 budget year. Unless they were U.S. citizens applying for visas for their spouses or children under the age of 21, immigrants could not bring family members over. Immigrants with employment-based visas were also barred from entering unless they were considered beneficial to the national interest, such as health care professionals.
Trump’s order slammed the door on thousands of visa lottery winners who were randomly chosen to receive green cards that would let them live permanently in the United States from a pool of about 14 million applicants. California immigration lawyer Curtis Morrison, who represented thousands of individuals blocked by the freeze, said the blocked visas add to a growing backlog that has reached 437,000 for family-based visas alone.
“I’m excited about my clients who are now in a position to enter the US now,” he said. “But that backlog will take years unless ambitious measures are taken by the administration.”
Last year, a federal judge issued a ruling that, by allowing temporary foreign workers to enter the United States if their employers are members of the US Chamber of Commerce or several other large organizations representing much of the US economy, all but lifted Proclamation 10052. But a thousand immigrants continued to be blocked by Proclamation 10014.
Immigration lawyers said they were surprised that Biden did not lift the freeze immediately, as he did with the travel ban imposed on people from mostly Muslim-majority countries by Trump. As a result, because of the freeze, some immigrants blocked by the travel ban found they still could not come to the United States.
The actions of Biden come only days after thousands of visa lottery winners at risk of expiring their visas won a court order that placed the judge on hold of their visas in the case. They will now be permitted to enter the country using their visas. Up to 55,000 visas, a year are made available by the United States for immigrants whose nationalities are underrepresented in the US population. The visas must be used within a period of six months after they are obtained.
In the meantime, Biden has proposed legislation that would restrict the presidential power to issue future immigrant bans. The president has not said whether there will be any compensation for visa lottery winners who have lost out due to the policies of the pandemic era. But he is calling on the US to increase from 55,000 to 80,000 the number of diversity visas available each year via the lottery.