The Jumpstart Our Legal Immigration System Act (H.R. 7374) (or “Jumpstart Act”) seeks to recapture the unused family-based, employment-based, and diversity immigrant visas accumulated over the past three decades, going back to fiscal year (FY) 1992. The bill would also permit immigrants residing in the United States and their dependents an expedited process to file for adjustment of status, allowing them to file when eligible for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, even if a visa number is not yet available. This would allow them to obtain work authorization while waiting for a visa to become available, which among other benefits, would prevent Documented Dreamers from “aging out” of LPR eligibility at 21 and being forced to self-deport.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) introduced this bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 4, 2022, and it has four cosponsors.
The Jumpstart Act would:
- Recapture around 222,000 unused family-sponsored visas;
- Recapture approximately 157,000 unused employment-based visas;
- Recapture around 40,000 unused diversity visas; and
- Allow early filing for adjustment of status for immigrants and their dependents, including Documented Dreamers.
Immigrant Visas and Green Cards
Individuals seeking to permanently immigrate to the United States can apply for an immigrant visa, typically if they have been sponsored by a family member or employer or fall into a handful of special immigrant categories. Immigrant visas do not provide a pathway to citizenship themselves but allow the holder to apply for a green card.
Green cards are issued after arrival in the United States. To qualify for a green card, applicants must have an immigrant visa already. An LPR is a foreign-born person who has been granted an indefinitely renewable visa to live and work in the United States. These “green card” holders can work, own property, receive certain government benefits, and have an eventual pathway to citizenship, as becoming an LPR is a necessary step in the naturalization process.
Unused Green Cards
Due to various administrative complications, the U.S. government has regularly failed to issue the full annual statutory allotment of green cards. These unused green cards have been left unissued for a variety of reasons – bureaucratic delays, slow USCIS processing, the COVID-19 pandemic, travel bans, and other administrative difficulties.
Every year, the U.S. sets aside 226,000 family preference green cards for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens; 140,000 employment-based green cards for skilled, unskilled, and professional workers, as well as investors; and 50,000 diversity visas for individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
In addition to these numerical limits, there are per-country caps on green cards. This means that, under existing federal law, individuals from any one country cannot be issued more than 7% of the total number of green cards each year. While seemingly reasonable, in practice, this means that individuals from countries with high numbers of green card applicants, such as India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines, face backlogs lasting years or even decades.
As a result of these various administrative issues, numerical limits, and per-country caps, wait times for green cards have compounded, with a total backlog of over 5.4 million — four million in the family-sponsored visa backlog and 1.4 million in the employment-based visa backlog.
Green Card Recapture
To tackle these backlogs, policy analysts and immigration advocates have suggested recapturing the unused green cards. The Jumpstart Act would recapture such unused green cards accumulated over the past three decades, going back to FY 1992, when Congress established the worldwide numerical limits on green cards and the 7% per-country caps. This strategy has the advantage of addressing the existing green card backlog through a mechanism that has received bipartisan support in Congress in the past, with Congress adopting legislation incorporating green card recapture in 2000 and 2005. This approach merely reallocates unused green cards to meet levels set by previous Congresses, steering clear of more contentious debates over raising immigration levels directly.
Recapturing unused green cards would yield important benefits, reducing the significant backlogs for family-based and employment-based green cards, addressing labor shortages, and confronting long-term demographic challenges.
In addition, the Jumpstart Act also provides a mechanism for “Documented Dreamers” to avoid “aging out” of LPR eligibility and losing their legal status. “Documented Dreamers” are the more than 200,000 children who came to the United States as dependents of their parents’ visas. Under U.S. law, these minors, who were brought into the U.S. legally and have maintained legal status throughout their stay, are in danger of “aging out” of status at 21 and being forced to self-deport.
The average Documented Dreamer arrived in the U.S. at age five, has grown up here, and has lived in the country for more than 12 years. Yet, due to various flaws and failures in the U.S. immigration system, Documented Dreamers lack a clear path to citizenship and face uncertain futures. In addition, as a result of entering the U.S. legally and retaining legal status until they age out, these young people are often overlooked in other efforts to address at-risk populations, sometimes left out of policies and solutions intended for Dreamers, a larger, similarly-situated population.
Acknowledging the extensive backlogs in the system, the Jumpstart Act includes a simple fix – it speeds up the process of filing for adjustment of status, no longer requiring individuals to wait until a visa is available in their category. Under the Jumpstart Act, immigrants residing in the United States and their dependents who are eligible for LPR status can file for adjustment of status, even if a visa number is not yet available. This allows them to obtain work authorization while waiting for a visa to become available. This benefits all impacted individuals but solves the “aging out” problem for Documented Dreamers, providing them work authorization as they wait for a visa and eventually a green card.
The Jumpstart Act is a timely legislative proposal to fix basic flaws in the U.S. immigration system. It tackles America’s labor shortage and long-term demographic challenges by addressing longstanding backlogs. Expanding the legal avenues for immigrants stuck in lengthy green card backlogs and enhancing the pathways to citizenship for the 200,000 Documented Dreamers is a common-sense solution that would positively impact the United States’ economy and labor market.