Report: The High Economic Cost of Unused Immigrant Visas

For decades, U.S. immigration laws have capped the number immigrant (permanent resident) visas that can be issued each fiscal year.  Due to processing delays and other factors, many of even these limited numbers of immigrant visas go unused – and are not rolled over or “recaptured” to increase the number of immigrants in the next fiscal year.  So, immigrant visa backlogs grow, keeping immediate families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents apart, and causing untenable wait lists that make it harder for U.S. employers to compete for international talent.   Multiple bills have been proposed in Congress to allow for unused visas to be recaptured.

The Niskanan Center outlines the problem in a recent report, while also detailing the positive economic impact of recapturing unused visas.

Quoting from the report, the key takeaways are:

• The waiting list for green cards has grown well into the millions and is expected to continue growing, leading to unacceptable wait times for applicants and imposing severe costs on the U.S. economy.

• Accumulated administrative errors and the disruption of COVID-19 have exacerbated the shortage of green cards by leaving unused hundreds of thousands of green card slots that Congress has authorized.

• Recapturing unused green cards and preventing green cards from going unused in the future would help restore the immigrant population in the United States to what Congress intended while generating many billions of dollars of economic activity and billions in net revenue streams. Congress has recaptured unused green cards twice with bipartisan support, but many more green cards remain available for recapture.

• The executive branch could act alone to recapture over 231,000 unused employment-based green cards, adding $216 billion to GDP over 10 years.

• If Congress amended the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century (AC21) Act, which already recaptured some 180,000 unused employment-based green cards, over 339,000 additional unused green cards could be recaptured, which would add $104 billion to GDP over 10 years.

• If the recapture provisions in the U.S. Citizenship Act (USCA) were signed into law, over 940,000 unused employment-based and family preference green cards would be recaptured, adding $815 billion to GDP over 10 years.

Read the full report here.