Biden rescinds Trump-era green card ban, following outcry

The ban barred certain green card applicants from abroad, but the president says it ‘does not advance the interests of the United States’

Protesters greet international travelers at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in 2017 following Trump's executive order restricting travel from several Islamic countries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Protesters greet international travelers at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in 2017 following Trump's executive order restricting travel from several Islamic countries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 24, 2021 at 9:31pm

President Joe Biden on Wednesday rescinded his predecessor’s proclamation barring certain foreign citizens from moving to the U.S. on new green cards, following weeks of outcry from immigrant advocates.

Former President Donald Trump handed down the proclamation in April in a stated effort to free up jobs for American citizens while unemployment rates skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Critics, however, pointed out that the ban primarily targeted relatives of legal permanent residents and older parents of Americans while carving out exemptions for U.S. citizens’ spouses, health care workers and investors. 

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Biden said in his Wednesday night order revoking the ban that it “does not advance the interests of the United States.”

“To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world,” he wrote. 

Biden also noted that the ban harmed winners of the Diversity Visa lottery, which gives 55,000 foreign citizens from underrepresented countries the chance to get a U.S. green card. Trump’s ban had kept thousands of lottery winners with approved visas stuck abroad, causing some to potentially lose their chance to move to the U.S. for good. 

Ijeoma Golden Kouadio, a Diversity Visa lottery winner from the Ivory Coast and a plaintiff in litigation challenging Trump’s ban, said in a statement through her attorneys that Biden’s announcement was a “huge relief.”

“We hope to arrive in the U.S. as soon as we can, so our children will have better education and a brighter future,” she said.

However, Biden still left in place a second ban, issued by Trump in June, that prohibits some foreign citizens from coming to the U.S. on new temporary work visas, including the H-1B visa for specialty occupations. Some foreign-born professionals with jobs in the U.S. had found themselves trapped abroad on short trips when borders closed. 

That work visa ban, however, was partly curtailed by a court ruling last year in California that barred the federal government from applying the restrictions to employers that belong to large professional organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If not renewed, the work visa proclamation expires automatically on March 31. 

Wednesday’s long-anticipated rescission comes more than a month after Biden withdrew Trump’s travel ban against Muslim-majority nations to much fanfare on his first day in office. 

Advocates expected him to rescind Trump’s other visa restrictions soon afterward, but the administration left in place the other two unemployment-related bans, which were premised on the theory that more immigration would hurt the U.S. economy.

Government attorneys also continued to defend the visa bans in court, where they argued that the bans were under “active review” and that a decision would be made by the end of February as to whether to keep them in place. 

Biden has also maintained coronavirus-related travel restrictions against foreign citizens who have been in much of Europe, Brazil and South Africa in the previous 14 days. 

On Friday, following a request by lawyers for the immigrant hopefuls, a federal judge in Washington extended the validity of some Diversity Visa lottery winners’ soon-expiring visas to preserve their chance to later move to the United States. Under the court’s order, their visas would be treated as issued either when litigation concludes or when Biden rescinds the bans, giving the immigrant hopefuls six months from now to enter the U.S.

With the proclamation gone, the government must now turn to the lengthy green card case backlog that has grown over the past 10 months, a daunting task with consulates still limiting services because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The State Department is currently facing a backlog of nearly 473,000 qualified family-based green card requests, according to a Feb. 8 court filing by the government. 

Jesse Bless, director of federal litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who challenged the visa bans in court, said in a statement late Wednesday that AILA “welcomes the decision to lift the ban and allow long-suffering families to lawfully reunite.”

But he also stressed that with such a lengthy backlog, “it will take an extraordinary feat of government coordination to process everyone in time and many are still at risk of losing their visas.”

He also called on Biden to lift two other remaining Trump-era proclamations: the ban on temporary foreign workers, and a second ban on green card applicants abroad who can’t prove they will be able to afford health insurance.

“America’s beacon of promise can only shine bright when the administration fully lifts all of former President Trump’s reprehensible bans,” Bless said.