Big decline in green cards FY 2021 vs. FY 2019

Fiscal Year 2021 ends today, September 30, 2021. In the years just before the pandemic, a little over one million green cards were issued each year. The total figure for FY 2021 will be much less, perhaps 800,000. If the immigration provisions in the budget reconciliation bill pass, that will add many millions of green cards to be awarded over the next few years.

Here is a summary of the three largest categories. I compare with the last pre-pandemic year, FY 2019.

Family-related green cards: In FY 2019 about 650,000 family-related green cards were issued, and 748,000 were eventually admitted. Because of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 immigrant visa ban and the close of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad last spring, about 122,000 family-based visas for FY 2020 went unused. About 50% of all existing green card holders are immediate family members and about 20% are family relatives; they total about 9.4 million of all 13.4 million existing green card holders

Employment-related green cards: The overall numerical limit for permanent employment-based immigrants is 140,000 per year. In FY 2019, 138,000 such visas were issued. This number includes the immigrants plus their eligible spouses and minor unmarried children, meaning the actual number of employment-based immigrants is less than 140,000 each year. About 12% of all existing green card holders are here due to employment; they are about 1.6 million.

The unused 122,000 family-related visas for FY 2020 have been added to the cap on employment-based immigration could have allowed the Biden administration to reduce the backlog of employment-based immigrant visa applications. But it seems likely that the administration will waste this opportunity by letting 100,000 employment-based visa numbers go unused.

Refugees: In FT 2019, 146,000 persons were admitted on refugee status. For FY 2021, the Trump administration set a cap of 15,000. The Biden administration initially continued the cap, but was pressured to revise it upwards to 62,500, and to 125,000 in FT 2022.  About 12% of all existing green card holders are refugees; they number about 1.6 million.

Sources: American Immigration Council here and here. Government figures for FY 2019 and other recent years here. Data on distribution of all green card holders are as of 2016, here

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