Last night, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the federal government – including immigration operations – through FY 2022, which ends September 30, 2022. President Biden is expected to sign the spending package into law.
The appropriations bill will fund the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, Labor and other federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year, averting a government shutdown. Since the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, 2021, Congress has passed several consecutive stop-gap spending measures to avert a government shutdown; the most recent was set to expire at midnight tonight.
Immigration programs reauthorized and revived
The spending package also extends three immigration programs through September 30, 2022.
E-Verify, the Conrad 30 waiver program for foreign medical graduates working in underserved areas, and the special immigrant non-minister religious worker program have been extended without change through the end of this fiscal year.
The bill also revives and revises the EB-5 Regional Center program for foreign investors. The Regional Center program expired on June 30, 2021 and was not included in any of the stop-gap spending measures keeping the government funded while budget negotiations continued. The new bill reauthorizes the Regional Center program through September 30, 2027 and increases the minimum investment amounts for applicants.
Other immigration provisions
The FY 2022 omnibus bill also includes other immigration-related provisions. The bill permits the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to authorize additional H-2B nonimmigrant visa numbers beyond the fiscal year statutory quota, as has become standard policy and practice over the last several years. It also authorizes the use of private wage surveys for H-2B nonimmigrants and clarifies the timing of entry for H-2B seafood industry workers, among other H-2B enforcement and timing provisions.
In an attempt to support the reduction of visa application backlogs at U.S. consulates abroad, the appropriations bill also explicitly permits the State Department to use visa application fraud fees for the provision of routine consular services. It is not known whether the State Department will indeed divert some of these funds from their original purpose of fraud prevention and detection in order to assist in the adjudication of routine visa applications, but the agency will have the authority to do so. The fee provision signals Congressional interest in the reduction of the current visa application backlog.
The bill also increases funding for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by more than $200 million from the last fiscal year, some of which may be used to address application backlogs, which have reached all-time highs for the agency.