Employment-Based Green Cards Are Mostly Used by Family Members

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 2014, 56 percent of all supposed employment-based green cards went to the family members of workers (Chart 1).  The other 44 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. 

Chart 1

Employment Based Green Cards by Recipient Types

 

Source: 2014 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 84,089 highly skilled immigrant workers could have entered in 2014 without increasing the quota.

Of the 151,596 green card beneficiaries in 2014, 86 percent were already legally living in the United States (Chart 2).  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.  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:

Chart 2

Adjustment of Status vs. New Arrivals

 

Source: 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Author’s Calculations

  • 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.

2014 Employment Based   Green Cards

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

16,913

23,694

20,746

2,211

3,922

 

67,486

44.52%
Workers Adjusted`

16,274

23,076

18,258

1,780

700

 

60,088

 
Workers New Arrivals`

639

618

2,488

431

3,222

 

7,398

 
Family

23,641

25,107

22,410

6,143

6,788

 

84,089

55.47%
Family Adjusted

22,539

23,796

17,330

5,150

739

 

69,554

 
Family New Arrival

1,102

1,311

5,080

993

6,049

 

14,535

 
Adjustment of Status

38,813

46,872

35,588

6,933

1,439

 

129,645

85.52%
New Arrival

1,741

1,929

7,568

1,429

9,284

 

21,951

14.48%
       

 

       
Total

40,554

48,801

43,156

8,362

10,723

 

151,596

 
       

 

       
  EB 1 EB 2 EB 3^

EB 4^

EB 5~      
Workers Adjusted 96.22% 97.39% 88.01% 80.51% 17.85%      
Worker New Arrivals

3.78%

2.61%

11.99%

19.49%

82.15%      
                 
Family Adjusted 95.34% 94.78% 77.33% 83.84% 10.89%      
Family New Arrival

4.66%

5.22%

22.67%

16.16%

89.11%

     
*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: 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics