What is Green Card Recapture and How Will It Affect Your Immigration Status? 

Before we discuss what green card recapture is, let’s first find out why it exists. Each year, the Department of Homeland Security determines the number of green cards available for different immigrant categories. For example, the State Department revealed in a recent report that 280,000 employment-based green cards would be available in 2022.

Unfortunately, the USCIS often fails to exhaust all the available green cards in some years for various reasons. The agency carries forward unprocessed applications and a long green card waiting list of eligible immigrants year after year. As a result, the USCIS piled overwhelming backlogs, leaving millions of immigrants uncertain about their immigration journey.

It may take several years to clear the USCIS backlogs. Fortunately, the State is fixing the problem using various tactics such as enacting new laws. The green card recapture is one of these solutions. However, many immigrants don’t understand this concept and what it entails. Although it’s relatively new, it may be the potential solution to the immigration backlogs problem.

Here’s everything you need to know about green card recapture. 

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this is NOT legal advice. If you need to speak to a marriage green card attorney, please call us at 253-332-9193 or send us a message online

How Does Green Card Recapture Work?

The green card recapture concept doesn’t increase the green card limits as fixed in the 1992 statute. Instead, it authorizes the USCIS to reuse unissued green cards dating from 1992. This process may recapture about 1.6 million unused green cards in the family and employment-based immigrant categories.

To understand how green card recapture works, you need to know how the State comes up with the number of available green cards in a year. Here’s what happens.

The Department of State uses a complex formula to decide the number of green cards available in a fiscal year. This formula comes from the 1992 statute that stipulates the numerical limit to the number of green cards availed in a year. The benchmarking number for employment green cards is 140,000, while family-based green cards are 226,000.

To compute the value of employment-based green cards, the USCIS adds family-based green cards rolled over from the prior year to the category’s numerical limit. As a result, the green card limit for this category may significantly increase, depending on how much family-based green cards rolled over to the new year.

The family-based green cards formula is different. To compute, the USCIS subtracts the sum of admitted immediate relatives and unissued employment green cards of the previous year from 480,000. The resulting value becomes the number of family-based green cards available for the new fiscal year. 

These values may occasionally fall below the statute’s numerical limit for family-based green cards. In such cases, the State reverts to availing 226,000 family-based green cards for that year as per the statute.

The Drawbacks of the Green Card Formula

The green card formula hasn’t always favored the lawmakers’ intentions. Sometimes, the procedure generates values lower than the numerical limit, making rolled-over green cards ineffective. As a result, the USCIS backlogs continue to pile up.

Besides the formula, other systemic factors lead to increasing backlogs. Examples include:

Per Country Caps

Per country caps limit the number of green cards issued to immigrants from certain countries. According to immigration laws, the USCIS can’t allocate more than 7 percent of available employment green cards to employees from one country. This law aims to distribute such opportunities among immigrants from different countries evenly.

However, the USCIS receives more employment-based green card applications from some countries than others. For example, 80 percent of the USCIS employment green card backlogs are applicants from India.

Covid-19 Pandemic Restrictions

The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic halted government and business processes such as international traveling and green card processing. As a result, there were thousands of unused green cards and swelling backlogs. Although the US government strives to rebound immigration activities to pre-pandemic levels, millions of applications wait in line for green card processing.   

Health Workers Visa Priorities

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, former President Trump enacted a Presidential Proclamation to prioritize green cards for health workers. On one hand, the directive helped solve the country’s healthcare workers’ shortages during the pandemic. On the other, it contributed to green card delays and backlogs. 

Many green card applications dropped lower in the waiting queue to prioritize immigrant health workers and their dependents. Unfortunately, this led to more backlogs and longer waiting times. 

How Green Card Recapture Solves USCIS Backlogs

Here’s how the green card recapture process contributes to reducing these backlogs.

  • Rolls over unissued green cards to new fiscal years, increasing the number of green cards available
  • Prevents future green card wastage and corrects some past bureaucratic errors 
  • Allows immigrant workers to apply for a green card without waiting for a visa number to be available
  • Allows immigrant workers to expedite their green card application process at a fee

Why is Green Card Recapture Important for the US Government?

For many years, immigrants have played a massive role in growing the country’s economy through working and investing in different sectors. Unfortunately, the USCIS backlogs slow the immigration processes for many immigrants living abroad. In addition, some immigrant workers living in the US can’t seek new job opportunities due to green card-related restrictions.

Green card recapturing solves this problem by providing immigrants with more opportunities to live and work in the US. A new report also projects that this exercise may grow the country’s GDP by 815 billion over ten years.

How do Immigrants Benefit From Green Card Recapturing?

Besides increasing the number of green cards available in a year, green card recapturing allows some immigrants to expedite their applications at a fee. Others may also apply for green cards without waiting for an available visa number.

Here’s a quick guide on USCIS processing times in 2022 worth checking out.

Because the concept is relatively new, it may be difficult to understand some parts of the legislation. You may want to consult an experienced immigration attorney like Serah Waweru and her team at The Law Office of Serah Waweru, to understand how this process relates to your green card application.  

Attorney Serah Waweru serves clients in Tacoma, Lakewood, Kent, Renton, University Place, Burien, Tukwila, Auburn, Federal Way, Olympia, and all over the United States.

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