Since taking office, Biden has rescinded several previous policies President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney Calls Greene’s Comments on House Mask Policy “Evil Insanity” Amash Warns Against Turning Lawmakers Like Cheney into “Heroes” Karen Pence Confirms Return to Indiana: “No ‘place like home’ FIND OUT MORE set up to block visas for thousands of immigrants seeking to work or join family members in the United States
But the same COVID-19 restrictions that helped Trump cut visas are now hampering Biden, who made expanding legal immigration channels a cornerstone of his first months in office.
As of April, about three-quarters of State Department embassies and consulates were at least partially closed, leaving few staff on site to process visas for those no longer blocked by Trump’s order.
“The reality on the ground is only marginally affected by the change in administration and policies,” said David Bier, a researcher at the Cato Institute who analyzed the number of partially closed embassies and consulates.
“Bureaucratic treatment is as important as any formal policy. And right now what we’re seeing is the large-scale State Department closures affecting the vast majority of legal immigrants looking to come to the United States right now, and not enough is being done. to facilitate the processing of these requests.
Even as the State Department ramps up vaccinations for its staff, visa processing complications during the pandemic are creating a stack on top of an already daunting backlog.
One of the results is that the effects of Trump’s policies aimed at family immigration continue under Biden’s presidency.
“The Trump administration has definitely exacerbated this,” said Megan Essaheb, director of Asian American immigration advocacy at Advancing Justice.
“It will be really, really difficult to do a full year of visa processing in seven months.”
There were more than 500,000 immigrant visa applicants ready for interviews at the end of April, with about 22,000 expected this month. That’s roughly a third of the average of 60,000 visa appointments before the pandemic.
And that is in addition to an additional 3.7 million people who submitted an initial application to join their families in the United States.
It’s a backlog that the State Department says has only worsened over the past year.
“Many of our embassies and consulates remain on a limited staffing position due to the pandemic,” the department said in a statement to The Hill, noting that COVID-19, as well as previous orders from Trump, have “resulted in deep reductions in the department. visa processing capacity. “
“US embassies and consulates are working to resume routine visa services on a site-by-place basis as quickly and safely as possible. We are making significant efforts with limited resources to safely return to pre-pandemic workload levels, but we are not able to provide a specific date for when this will happen at every position, ”said the agency.
As the coronavirus spread rapidly around the world last year, Trump signed a wave of executive orders that aligned with his long-term immigration goals.
The first, signed in April 2020, blocked visas for nearly anyone looking to join relatives already in the United States, as well as winners of the 55,000 diversity visas awarded annually by draw to those seeking a card. green.
“We need to be aware of the impact of foreign workers on the US labor market, especially in an environment of high domestic unemployment and declining demand for labor. We must also conserve critical State Department resources so that consular officials can continue to provide services to US citizens abroad, ”Trump wrote in the April order.
A June order restricted visas for temporary workers – popular in the tech industry – as well as seasonal and other workers.
Limits on family migration have helped the Trump administration achieve a goal it had sought from the start: to end “an outdated system of family ties, no skills and no merit,” the White House said. written in 2017, limiting who could join family members already living in the United States
“It created this situation where we basically drastically removed family immigration and we’ve been doing it for a year now,” said Jorge Loweree, director of policy at the American Immigration Council, adding that the ordinances were based on “so-called economic reasons.”
“It was very deliberate carving the people they wanted to carve for years.”
Other aspects of the complex U.S. immigration system have further helped the Trump administration.
The United States caps the number of visas for both family and employment each year. However, any family visas that are not used are then added to the employment-based cap for the following year – a feature that can inflate employment-based opportunities.
“We are definitely in limbo for family sponsored immigration to the world. They don’t know when they’re going to get appointments, and the backlog will continue to grow as they don’t issue visas at the rate they need to use them all, ”Bier said.
“So everyone is pushed further in the line because of this.”
More than 100,000 unused family visas were used in 2020, increasing the number of employment-based visas for this year.
Loweree said that means the impact of some of Trump’s changes will last even after he leaves.
“The only thing to understand is that there is this genius in the way they went about it, because what they did was proven to be incredibly effective given the way our system is structured,” did he declare.
“The combination of what they did actually achieved – by manipulating the federal bureaucracy – what they wanted for years, which was to drastically eliminate family immigration while boosting employment-based immigration. It’s a trend that has continued and, frankly, could get worse over the next fiscal year, unless the Biden administration decides to speed up consular processing abroad.
Some want the State Department to ease some of its restrictions, going virtual at a time when so many workplaces have done the same.
“We would like them to do virtual visa interviews,” Essaheb said.
“There are certainly categories that probably need further examination,” she said, “but there are other apps with family relationships that are pretty routine, and people who have blood relationships. often have ample evidence of this relationship. ”
Bier hopes the State Department may choose to exempt entire categories from interviews, such as those who have already been interviewed or who have traveled to the United States or others with low risk of extending their visa terms.
Essaheb also hopes there might be a legislative solution – take action to preserve family visas that would otherwise expire.
“We want Congress to register these immigrant visas and carry them over into the New Year,” she said.