March 26, 2014 11:48AM

Family Members Use Most Employment‐​Based Green Cards

Many critics of American immigration policy claim there is too much emphasis on family reunification and not enough on employment. It’s not a problem that families can reunify in the United States, but those critics are right that the American immigration system highly favors families – even in the employment-based green card category set-aside for workers.

The underlying issue is that the families of immigrant workers must use employment-based green cards. Instead of a separate green card category for spouses and children, they get a green card that would otherwise go to a worker. In 2012, 56 percent of all supposed employment-based green cards went to the family members of workers. The other 44 percent went to the actual workers. 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 of approximately 140,000 a year. If family members were exempted from the quota, or there was a separate green card for them, an additional 81,245 highly skilled immigrant workers could have entered in 2012 without increasing the quota.

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In addition, 87.5 percent of those who gained an employment-based green card in 2012 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. 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.

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Here are some other exemption options:

  • 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 from the cap if they have a higher level of education, like a graduate degree or a PhD.
  • Workers could be exempted if they show five or more years of legal employment in the United States.
  • 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.

 


2012 Employment Based Green Cards

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

16,286


24,719


17,689


1,703


2,295

 

62,692


43.56%

Workers Adjusted`

15,770


24,261


15,297


1,400


428

 

57,156

 
Workers New Arrivals`

516


458


2,392


303


1,867

 

5,536

 
Family

23,030


26,240


21,532


6,153


4,290

 

81,245


56.44%

Family Adjusted

22,029


25,153


15,906


5,240


501

 

68,829

 
Family New Arrival

1,001


1,087


5,626


913


3,789

 

12,416

 
             

0

 
Adjustment of Status

37,799


49,414


31,203


6,640


929

 

125,985


87.53%

New Arrival

1,517


1,545


8,018


1,216


5,656

 

17,952


12.47%

                 
Total

39,316


50,959


39,221


7,856


6,585

 

143,937

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

96.83%


98.15%


86.48%


82.21%


18.65%

     
Worker New Arrivals

3.17%


1.85%


13.52%


17.79%


81.35%

     
                 
Family Adjusted

95.65%


95.86%


73.87%


85.16%


11.68%

     
Family New Arrivals

4.35%


4.14%


26.13%


14.84%


88.32%

     
*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: 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics