Congress Passes Defense Bill Expanding Visa Program for Government Employees
FAIR Take | December 2023
Last Thursday, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024, a “must-pass” bill debated every year to authorize defense spending for the country. In recent years, the bill has become an opportunity to attach policy riders and provisions not directly related to defense, some years including immigration measures.
This year, the NDAA incorporated S. 1877, the Granting Recognition to Accomplished Talented Employees for Unwavering Loyalty (GRATEFUL) Act. This bill, authored by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), increases the number of special immigrant visas (or green cards) available for foreign employees of the U.S. government, largely State Department employees working abroad, who have “performed faithful service for a total of fifteen years, or more.” The bill also offers visas to accompanying spouses and children of such employees. According to a joint statement, Senators Van Hollen and Tillis introduced the legislation to reduce the time these employees must wait for green cards due to the current visa structure, where they are competing with religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, and certain physicians.
The expanded program, now renamed the Government Employee Immigrant Visa (GIV) program, sets aside 3,500 visas in FY2024 and 3,000 visas annually thereafter for qualifying government employees. The green cards would be fully offset by subtracting visas from the Visa Lottery Program, commonly known as the diversity visa lottery. The diversity visa lottery, established in 1990, provides up to 55,000 green cards annually to applicants from countries with low immigration into the United States. FAIR has long opposed the visa lottery because it gives out green cards at random, without consideration for the skills of the immigrants or the needs of the nation.
The NDAA also includes pay increases for certain Border Patrol agents. In particular, it provides agents at the GS-12 level with a higher hourly rate when they work overtime. Mandatory overtime has become increasingly common for agents as the Border Patrol struggles to hire agents and maintain morale while protecting our borders from a historic wave of illegal immigration.
Importantly, several harmful immigration provisions, such as the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA), were successfully blocked from inclusion in the NDAA. The Afghan Adjustment Act, originally introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, would provide green cards for thousands of Afghan nationals who fled the country after its fall to the Taliban in August 2021 and were subsequently paroled into the United States. When the NDAA was last considered by the Senate in July 2023, Sen. Klobuchar fought to attach the Afghan Adjustment Act as an amendment. That effort failed, with FAIR highlighting numerous problems with the legislation – including vetting and security concerns – that the bill failed to address.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 87-13 and the House by 310-118, garnering more Democrat than Republican support in both chambers.