Huge Trump-Era And Pandemic Immigrant Visa Backlog Poses Challenge For Biden

President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington.??(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CNN) – Even though President Joe Biden has moved to reverse many of his predecessor’s anti-immigration policies, the consequences of those restrictive measures linger and have contributed to a massive backlog of nearly 2.6 million visa applications.

The backlog includes nearly half a million applicants who are “documentarily qualified” and ready for interviews, according to a recent legal filing by the State Department. Backlogs in some immigrant-visa categories are 50 or even 100 times higher than they were four years ago, at the start of the Trump administration.

Some of the backlogs are due to restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But some also spring from pre-pandemic Trump policies or actions that the Biden administration hasn’t unwound.

The Biden administration is still reviewing or hasn’t fully reversed some measures that slow or block processing, such as heightened background checks and questionable terrorism designations.

In a policy reversal just Thursday, the State Department said that in places that are subject to regional pandemic travel restrictions, it will now let people seeking immigrant and fiancee visas go ahead and apply. Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that “it is in the national interest” to exempt those applicants from the restrictions, a spokesman said.

Then, too, the effects of a Trump-era freeze on State Department hiring have left its consular sections short-staffed.

Meanwhile, Biden has come under fire from Democrats for not, as of Friday, raising the refugee cap for this fiscal year to 62,500, as his administration proposed back in February. Biden also proposed a target cap of 125,000 for the fiscal year starting in October, up from Trump’s 2020 cap of 15,000, the lowest level ever.

At a briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that Biden remains committed to raising the cap to 62,500 by the end of the fiscal year, September 30, but she did not say when he’ll do so.

By Bob Ortega for CNN
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