Conservatives Sound Alarm Over Build Back Better Immigration Provisions

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Conservatives inside and outside the federal government are expressing concern over provisions in the Build Back Better Act that would expand the number of visas available to prospective immigrants.

The policy, known as “visa recapture,” ensures that visas that are not used during a calendar year remain available to potential immigrants during the next calendar year. The State Department currently offers 140,000 work visas, 226,000 family-sponsored visas, and 50,000 diversity visas to prospective immigrants every year.

Under the “visa recapture” proposal, those numbers would increase based off of the previous year’s allotment. For instance, if the State Department only distributes 130,000 work visas in a calendar year, the 10,000 unused visas would be added to the next year’s total. Under all three categories, unused visas would be made available starting from 1992.

The Build Back Better Act provisions allow diversity visas to be rolled over if they went unused due to executive orders signed by former President Donald Trump suspending immigration from countries associated with terrorist organizations, or because of travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. (RELATED: Biden To Sign Three Executive Orders On Immigration Rolling Back Trump Policies)

Republican Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty called out the visa recapture provisions in a letter to Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, calling them the “crown jewel of corporate lobbying.”

Those provisions “effectively terminate, for at least 10 years, all numerical limits on the annual allotment of green cards,” Hagerty wrote, allowing “technology companies across America to employ a functionally limitless supply of cheaper foreign labor in place of willing, able, and qualified American workers.”

Sanders did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.

“So-called ‘unused visas’ are a gimmick created by advocates of unlimited immigration. There is no such thing as an unused visa so this is really just a stealth attempt to increase legal immigration, and fuel more chain migration, without being transparent with the American people. Any debate to increase legal immigration should be fully vetted in the Judiciary Committee, not rammed through in a large bill few have actually read,” former Trump administration official and Director of Regulatory Affairs and Policy at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) Robert Law told the Daily Caller.

Advocates for visa recapture claim that the proposal is more likely to survive a Byrd Rule challenge than other schemes that increase legal immigration. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said in September that Democrats would not attempt to overturn a Parliamentarian ruling that a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is incidental to the federal budget, and can not be included in a reconciliation package. Instead, he promised an “alternative proposal” that would be acceptable under reconciliation rules.

“Changing the law to clear the way to [legal permanent resident] status is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact,” Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough wrote.

Visa recapture “doesn’t change who’s eligible, it just changes when they would receive their benefits, so nobody would be able to apply for a green card who can’t already apply for a green card,” Jeremy Neufeld, an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center, told Roll Call. “It changes the timing of benefits, which seems more budgetary in nature than changing who gets benefits.”