Sojourners: “Policymakers Aim To Address 900,000-Person Green Card Backlog.”

by Georgina Escobar

The House of Representatives recently passed a measure that would end country-based caps to significantly increase the number of green card holders from certain nations. This proposal, now sent to the Senate, was one of several in Congress competing to address the backlog of more than 900,000 approved employment-based green card applications. Under the measures proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Fla) and by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the visas would be awarded on a first-come first-served basis, many of which would go to Indian and Chinese nationals.

Rep. Lofgren raised the issue of recruitment and retention of the “best talent in the world,” arguing that this becomes more difficult when workers from “high-population countries must compete for the same limited number of visas as workers from low-population countries.” Under current law, every country that has applicants is limited to seven percent of the annual quota. Department of Homeland Security data reveals that somewhere around 2,000 allotted employment-based green cards remained unused in fiscal year 2017 (FY 17) because of the per-country cap. “It’s kind of absurd to have these incredible backlogs and still not be using our quota,” said Laura Danielson, an immigration lawyer. She believes the bill passed by the House will ensure that the quota will get used.

According to Sojourners, Indian nationals account for more than 76 percent of all approved pending employment-based petitions, and Chinese nationals, the second most backlogged category, account for around 14 percent. Indian nationals face the longest wait time, reportedly amounting to 151 years for certain applicants, according to data published by the Cato Institute in 2018. Foreign nationals working in the US must also contend with the existing inconveniences of the H-1B visa.  For example, “Manoj,” who withheld his last name in fear of hurting his green card application, is an Indian national and IT professional on an H-1B visa who has been waiting for his green card since 2013.

Some immigration policy experts are concerned that the Lofgren and Lee proposals would be “a choice between worsening the current problem and creating new ones,” unless further reforms are made in the green card and H-1B systems. Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, says that the Lee and Lofgren bills come with a series of additional issues, including the likelihood of this measure turning the H-1B visa into a thirteen to fourteen-year visa. Costa suggests alternatives such as “stricter labor certification,” which would make companies search for US workers first. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of better protection for H-1B workers so that they are not tied to an employer, allowing them to apply for green cards independently.