President Joe Biden on Wednesday halted a freeze on green cards issued by his predecessor during a pandemic that lawyers said blocked the most legal immigration to the United States.
Former President Donald Trump last spring stopped issuing green cards until the end of 2020 to protect the coronavirus-interested labor market – a reason given by Trump for achieving many of the cuts to legal immigration that had escaped him before the pandemic.
Trump on December 31 extended these orders until the end of March.
Trump had considered immigrants a “risk to the US labor market” and blocked their entry into the United States when they issued Proclamation 10014 and Proclamation 10052.
Biden stated in his proclamation on Wednesday that closing the door to legal immigrants “does not promote the interests of the United States.”
“On the contrary, it harms the United States, among other things by preventing certain family members of American citizens and legal permanent residents from joining their families here. It also hurts industries in the United States that use talent from around the world, “Biden said in his announcement.
Most immigrant visas were blocked by the orders, according to immigration lawyers.
As many as 120,000 family-based preferential visas were largely lost due to the pandemic-related freeze during the 2020 fiscal year, according to the American Immigrant Lawyers Association. Immigrants could not take over family members unless they were U.S. citizens applying for visas for their spouses or children under the age of 21.
It also prevented immigrants with employment-based visas if they were not considered favorable to the national interest, such as health care workers.
And it threw the door on thousands of visa lottery winners who were randomly selected from a pool of about 14 million applicants to get green cards that would allow them to live permanently in the United States.
Blocked visas are increasing to a growing backlog that has reached 437,000 for family-based visas alone, said California immigration attorney Curtis Morrison, who represented thousands of people blocked by the freeze.
“I am happy for my customers who are now in a position that they can now enter the United States,” he said. “But that backlog will take several years if the administration does not take ambitious action.”
A federal judge announced last year that all but one repealed Proclamation 10052 by allowing temporary foreign workers to enter the United States if their employers are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or several other large organizations representing much of the U.S. economy.
But Proclamation 10014 continued to block thousands of immigrants.
Immigration lawyers said they were surprised Biden did not immediately remove the freeze he did with Trump’s travel ban imposed on people from mostly Muslim countries. As a result, some immigrants who were blocked by the travel ban found that they still could not come to the United States due to the freezing.
Biden’s actions come just days after thousands of visa lottery winners who risk having their visas terminated won a court decision that pitted their visas pending the judge in the case. Now they can use their visas to enter the country.
The United States provides up to 55,000 visas a year for immigrants whose nationalities are underrepresented in the US population. Visas must be used within six months of receiving them.
Meanwhile, Biden has proposed legislation that would limit the president’s authority to issue future bans on immigrants.
The president has not said whether there will be any correction for visa lottery winners who lost due to the pandemic policy. But he calls on the United States to increase the number of multiple-entry visas available through the lottery each year from 55,000 to 80,000.