December 5, 2018 11:07AM

Are the Per‐​Country Limits Necessary to Promote “Diversity”?

The most popular piece of legislation in the House of Representatives—with 329 cosponsors—would phase out and eliminate the per‐​country limits for employment‐​based green cards, while doubling the limits for family‐​based immigrants. These per‐​country limits discriminate against nationals of countries with high demand for green cards. For employment‐​based immigrants, immigrants from India receiving green cards in 2018 waited a decade, Chinese immigrants waited 3 years, while everyone else waited less than a year.

It is fundamentally unfair to make equally qualified employees of U.S. businesses wait ten times as long based on their birthplace. Rather than selecting employees solely on who has the best resume, employers now also have to consider who has the right home country. Moreover, the wait times distort the market and keep immigrants with more experience and higher wage offers from receiving green cards. My analysis earlier this year showed that the per‐​country limits artificially suppress the average wage offer for most employer‐​sponsored immigrants by $11,592.

In August, however, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Francis Cissna who runs the legal immigration bureaucracy for the Trump administration appeared to criticize the change for undermining the “diversity” of immigrants. “It would indeed ameliorate the situation of Indian nationals,” he said. “But it would also have other effects on the diversity or flow more generally – and national representation amongst the employment‐​based immigration pool.”

“Diversity” is, indeed, the main argument for the country limits. But even assuming that the government has a legitimate interest in promoting diversity, is the argument even valid? Of course, the per‐​country limits result in diversity of, as Cissna put it, “national representation.” But using “nations” is a poor proxy for individual diversity. Compare immigrants from the European Union and Indians in the EB-2 green card lines for employees of U.S. businesses with master’s degrees, the line where nearly 70 percent of the employer‐​sponsored Indians are waiting.

Table: Comparison of India and European EB-2 Immigration

India European Union






EB-2 Country Cap(s)



EB-2 Actual Issuances



Percent of Cap Used



Wait for a Green Card

10 Years

0 Years

Backlog of Applicants



Sources: Annual Report of the Visa Office; Visa Bulletin

The European Union has a collective country EB-2 quota 28 times higher than the quota for India because it is made up of 28 individual nations. It ends up using just 7 percent of that quota, but this is still almost twice as many green cards as all of India in the EB-2 category. This disparity exists even though the European Union has only 40 percent as many people as India. This seems unfair, but we’re told that this is alright because the EU—composed of 28 countries—is much more diverse than India.

Yet India has virtually the same number of official languages as the EU (22 v. 24). It has at least six major religions—Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism—while the EU only has three—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Indian immigrants in America reflect this religious diversity as well: only half are Hindu, while the rest are Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, or others. The number of ethnic groups in each location is difficult to pin down, but India and the EU appear to have similar levels of ethnic diversity. Wikipedia lists 22 Indo‐​Aryan peoples, rivalling the roughly 28 nationalities in the EU. India is, of course, a geographically diverse area as well.

The fact is that nationality is not a very good approximation of individual diversity. On this point, Director Cissna’s statements were not strictly false, but they are misleading. Even if we grant that the EU is more diverse, is it so much more so that it justifies giving Indians 4 percent as many green cards? The only important legal difference is that India is considered a single state, while the EU, though it has a governing body, is still considered 28 different states, so it receives 28 times as many potential green card slots.

Of course, I find the entire idea that the government should attempt to micromanage the religious, linguistic, ethnic, or racial diversity of the United States ridiculous. The government has no legitimate interest in trying to keep out immigrants on these grounds or making them wait longer because of them. If it were proposed to discriminate directly on these grounds, that would be clear to anyone, but only because we disguise the discrimination as diversity in “national representation,” people excuse it.

Diversity should occur naturally as Americans—acting as family members, employers, or consumers—freely interact with people around the world. The government should not tip the scales to make the country more diverse or less diverse than it would otherwise be. In any case, employer‐​sponsored green cards are supposed to serve economic goals, not social engineering.

We know that the country caps, which started in 1924, did grow out of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Asiatic Bar Zone of 1917, which were explicitly efforts at racial engineering. Even when Congress reformed the country limits in 1965 to make them equal across countries, supporters of the legislation reassured  skeptics that America would not be flooded “hordes of Africans and Asians.” The reason Congress didn’t simply get rid of the caps was explicitly to keep down Asian and African immigration. The arguments have changed, but the end result is the same, and this type of government intervention is as inappropriate now as it was then.

In his comments, Director Cissna also recognized some of the problems that long waits can create, as employees are stuck with their employers and can be taken advantage of, and that the wait times are unfair toward Indians. But he’s wrong to emphasize the loss in diversity. Indians are a very diverse group themselves, and even if they weren’t, it is none of the government’s business anyway.