Quick Immigration Fix: Recapturing Unused Visas

While we all wait for President Obama’s November 20, 2014 executive actions on immigration to take effect, we are hoping that the White House takes swift action to modernize and streamline the legal immigration system.

On November 21, 2014, the White House established a task-force to study ways in which the executive branch would take steps, without Congress, to modernize the legal immigration system. Many organizations issued game-changing proposals on how the President could achieve this. One of the more popular proposals, and one that the Administration should adopt, is the recapture of unused visas.

What does recapture of unused visas mean? Every year, Congress authorizes a certain number of family-based visas and green cards for immigrants to come to work in the United States. And every year bureaucratic delays prevent a certain portion of those from being claimed.

Consequently, every year thousands of potential green cards vanish, like cellphone minutes, that do not rollover. The huge backlogs in legal immigration, which span years or even decades for applicants from some countries, continue to fester. The myth of the United States as the land of immigrants yearning to breathe freely continues to become more mythical.

Under the current immigration system, over 220,000 applications from people who qualify for green cards are delayed due to bureaucratic error. This has unnecessarily hampered our economic growth, kept families apart, and made it increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs to retain talented workers.

A one-time recapture of all visas lost since 1990 could lead to the availability of thousands of visas that can be allocated to both the family-based and employment-based system. Recapturing these unused visas will start the process of making amends to intending immigrants who have waited years because of government processing delays.

Ultimately, visa recapture would not fundamentally transform the lives of 4.2 million individuals waiting in the visa backlogs. However, this small administrative fix would help thousands more immigrate to the United States to reunite with their families, and quite possibly, temporarily clear the employment visa backlog.

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