In an overwhelming vote, the House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants, a bill to phase out the per country limits on employment-based immigrant visas (or green cards), which lead to legal permanent resident status. The Senate is working on its own version of the legislation. The per country limits provide that no single nation can receive more than 7 percent of the total green cards issued in a year (unless they would otherwise go unused).
Because Congress has failed to authorize enough green cards for workers hired by U.S. employers, a large backlog of applicants has developed. The largest employment-based backlog is in the second and third preference categories for employees of U.S. businesses with at least bachelor’s degree (i.e. EB2/EB3). As of May 2018, about 586,439 workers and their families were waiting for EB2/EB3 green cards, based on figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This number includes an estimate of the spouses and children who are waiting with the workers.
The per country limits, however, cause this backlog to develop unevenly. They result in an inequity between the proportion of applicants from certain countries and the proportion of green cards that nationals of those countries receive. Figure 1 shows the estimated number of new applicants in 2018, the number of green cards issued by country of origin, and the backlog by country of origin. The fact that employers requested more than half of the green cards for Indians but Indians received just 13 percent of those issued has caused the backlog to develop almost exclusively for Indians.
The Indian backlog means that they carry almost the entire burden of the green card shortage. While they wait in line, nationals of other countries get to cut to the front of the line. Going forward, new EB2/EB3 applicants from India in 2019 will face astronomical wait times. At the current pace, it will take 49 years to process the Indian backlog—if people stick it out that long—and nearly 50,000 Indians would die before then. During that entire half century, other immigrants would keep bypassing Indians with almost no wait at all. Table 1 shows the projected wait times by country based on the current rate at which green cards are issued.
The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act would phase out the per country limits for all employment-based immigrants, so that immigrants would receive green cards on a first-come, first-served basis without regard to birthplace. After a period of adjustment, the share of green cards that each nationality receives will equal the share of applicants from each country. But because such a large backlog of Indians, it will take several years to work through the backlog.Read the rest of this post →