Employment-Based Green Cards Are Mostly for Families

The United States’ immigration system favors family reunification – even in the so-called employment-based categories.  The family members of immigrant workers must use employment based green cards to enter the United States.  Instead of a separate green card category for spouses and children, they get a green card that would otherwise go to a worker. 

In 2013, 53 percent of all supposed employment-based green cards went to the family members of workers.  The other 47 percent went to the workers themselves.  Some of those family members are workers, but they should have a separate green card category or be exempted from the employment green card quota altogether. 

Source: 2013 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Author’s Calculations

If family members were exempted from the quota or there was a separate green card category for them, an additional 85,232 highly skilled immigrant workers could have entered in 2013 without increasing the quota.

139,757 green card beneficiaries, 87 percent of those who gained an employment-based green card in 2013, were already legally living in the United States.  They were able to adjust their immigration status from another type of visa, like an H-1B or F visa, to an employment-based green card. 

Source: 2013 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Author’s Calculations

 

Exempting some or all of the adjustments of status from the green card cap would almost double the number of highly skilled workers who could enter.  Here are some other exemption options:

  • Workers could be exempted from the cap if they have a higher level of education, like a graduate degree or a PhD.
  • A certain number of workers who adjust their status could be exempted in the way the H-1B visa exempts 20,000 graduates of American universities from the cap.
  • Workers could be exempted if they show five or more years of legal employment in the United States prior to obtaining their green card.
  • Workers could be exempted based on the occupation they intend to enter.  This is a problem because in involves the government choosing which occupations are deserving, but so long as it leads to a general increase in the potential numbers of skilled immigrant workers without decreasing them elsewhere, the benefits will outweigh the harms.

 

2013 Employment Based   Green Cards

  EB 1 EB 2 EB 3^ EB 4^ EB 5~   All EB Percent
Workers`

16,225

31,130

20,034

4,673

3,102

 

75,164

46.86%

Workers Adjusted`

15,616

30,484

17,318

4,247

592

 

68,257

 
Workers New Arrivals`

609

646

2,716

426

2,510

 

6,907

 
Family

22,753

31,896

22,931

2,246

5,406

 

85,232

53.14%

Family Adjusted

21,667

30,472

17,403

1,349

609

 

71,500

 
Family New Arrival

1,086

1,424

5,528

897

4,797

 

13,732

 
Adjustment of Status

37,283

60,956

34,721

5,596

1,201

 

139,757

87.13%

New Arrival

1,695

2,070

8,244

1,323

7,307

 

20,639

12.87%

                 
Total

38,978

63,026

42,965

6,919

8,508

 

160,396

 
                 
  EB 1 EB 2 EB 3^ EB 4^ EB 5~      
Workers Adjusted

96.25%

97.92%

86.44%

90.88%

19.08%

     
Worker New Arrivals

3.75%

2.08%

13.56%

9.12%

80.92%

     
                 
Family Adjusted

95.23%

95.54%

75.89%

60.06%

11.27%

     
Family New Arival

4.77%

4.46%

24.11%

39.94%

88.73%

     
*Some data on spouses and children withheld.          
^Some data on spouses, children, and workers withheld.        
`Investors for the EB-5.              
~Some data on spouses, children, and investors withheld.        
Source: 2013 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics