The state of the immigrant visa backlog is becoming clearer as the Biden administration attempts to undo the damage committed by the Trump administration. There is currently a backlog of 2.6 million visa applications, with nearly a fifth of them “documentarily qualified,” i.e. ready for an interview. The backlog for some immigrant visa types is 50 or 100x larger than it was at the start of the Trump administration.
As a result, applicants and their families should expect the backlog to extend into next year or longer. While part of the problem were COVID-19 restrictions that prevented embassies from conducting interviews, much of the problem came down to Trump-era rules that slowed down the approval process. Some of these rules haven’t yet been undone by Biden despite slowing down visa approvals, including heightened background checks.
Another issue has been understaffing at consulates around the world. Hiring freezes during the Trump era, as well as higher turnover, resulted in a hiring gap that the Biden administration is seeking to fill.
Backlog Problems Could Last Entire Biden Presidency
All of these issues combined have created a problem that will take years to solve. Leon Rodriguez, former director of USCIS, believes that the Biden administration will take “a long time” to reach pre-Trump immigration levels, much less surpass them. The State Department told CNN that “backlog numbers will continue to fluctuate” as a result of the pandemic.
The backlog could also result in diversity lottery winners losing entry into the U.S. The diversity lottery awards 55,000 visas to people from countries with low levels of immigration into the U.S. However, those visas need to be processed within the same fiscal year, or they expire. Imagine the heartbreak of people who won a visa against all odds, only to lose their chance at immigration due to bureaucratic backlogs.