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The Editors

80,000 Green Cards Are About to Disappear From the U.S.

If Congress doesn't act soon, a huge cache of unused employment-based visas will be lost for good.

Green card, meet black hole.

Green card, meet black hole.

Photographer: Bill Oxford/iStockphoto/Getty Images

The Biden administration has acknowledged that in the last fiscal year the U.S. failed to issue roughly 80,000 green cards that should have been given to legal immigrant workers. The shortfall adds to a backlog of more than 1 million people waiting to receive employment-based visas. Congress should ensure those green cards are used — and then set about fixing a system that pointlessly burdens skilled immigrants and the businesses that employ them.

Each year, the U.S. issues a maximum of 140,000 green cards to immigrants sponsored by employers and approved for permanent residence — a number frozen since 1990. Another 226,000 “family preference” green cards are reserved for family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. In years when the ceiling for family preference visas is not reached, due to low demand or processing delays or both, the unused visas move to the employment-based category, but have to be awarded by the end of the next fiscal year.