Do you know a high-skilled immigrant if born in India has to wait anywhere from 70 years to 300 years to get his green card, but a high-skilled applicant from any other countries (such as Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria or UK) can get their green card in just about 7 months after entering United States?
Do you know that USCIS/DHS approves green card petitions of these high-skilled immigrants stuck in decades long back within few months of applying but make people of Indian origin wait for 70 years after approval to give them green card?
Do you know ‘H4 Dreamers’ (foreign born kids of these high-skilled immigrants stuck in decades long green card backlog) have to self deport at age of 21, if they fail to get visa under lottery system in spite of legally living in this country for almost their entire life?
Do you know an Indian born physician serving in remotest areas of the USA may have to wait 70 years for his green card but a doctor/nurse if born in any other country other than India, working for the same doctor, can get green card in just 7 months?
Do you know there are about 1.5 million such high-skilled immigrants who stuck in green card backlog, are legally living in the United States with all proper paperwork, paying taxes over a decade, have approved green card petitions by USCIS/DHS and have heavily invested in the country?
Do you know while they wait for decades for their green cards, if these high-skilled immigrants lose their job even once, they have to sell their houses, cars, all their belongings in just 30 days and leave the country with their American born kids who’s future will be severely impacted by such displacement?
Do you know United States allocates over 1 million green cards every year but less than 7% of these green cards are given based on skills and experience?
Do you know United States immigration rules are mostly unchanged since 50 years?
Do you know United States have country quotas for most green card categories where no country can get more than 7% of green cards? This means a country such as India with a population of 1.3B have exactly same number of green cards as country such as Vatican City with population of less than 500.
Do you know that most of the congress members are either completely unaware of this problem or totally indifferent to it as major political parties cater to their vote-banks and ignoring the plights of law-abiding, tax-paying high-skilled immigrants?
There are more than 1.5 million high-skilled immigrants, currently living in United States, legally, paying taxes, but are stuck in decades long green card backlog
Most research suggests this wait can be anywhere from 70 years to 300 years.
These high-skilled immigrants include doctors, engineers, scientists, technology experts among others. Many of them have advanced degrees from prestigious US Universities.
Since they are living for over a decade, they have made tremendous contribution to economy and have invested heavily in real estate, 401k, and retirement funds etc.
Ironically, all important steps for green card petitions which include background checks, labor certifications and clearances, experience and skill-set checks, lawful hiring etc. are already being verified and approved by the federal agencies for us applicants. It is just the green card allotment which is pending for decades.
Sadly enough, congress has hardly taken any measures to relieve the pain of these law-abiding immigrants and as a result, with every passing year more than 100,000 high-skilled immigrants are added in the backlog.
Less than 1 year green card wait
Less than 4 years green card wait
Less than 6 years green card wait
More than 70 years green card wait and growing exponentially every passing year
REASONS BEHIND THE PROBLEM
There is a huge disparity between how green cards are allocated versus how the demand is created. Let’s look at the green card allocation first.
USA issues total of 1 million green cards every year which are distributed in different categories such as employment based (EB), Family based (FB), Diversity based, refugees and many other programs.
Out of these 1 million green cards issued every year, only 140k (14%) goes to EB categories, which also includes family members of primary applicants. If we take out family members, only 6%-7% of total 1 million green cards goes to primary applicants within employment based categories.
Within EB category, EB2 and EB3 sub-categories gets only 80k (8%) of 1 million green cards issued every year. Most green cards applications are submitted in EB2 and EB3 categories.
Each country has a cap of 7% and hence only 5600 (7% of 80,000) green cards are allotted to high-skilled applicants from each country for EB2/EB3. The 7% cap is irrespective of the size or number of applicants from any country and hence big countries like India and a small country like Qatar, both get exactly same number of green cards, irrespective of the educational qualifications or skills they possess.
NOW LET'S LOOK AT THE DEMAND FOR THESE GREEN CARDS
India and China together account for 36% of world population.
Majority of international students at US Universities comes from these two countries and about 75% of employment visa applications come from high-skilled individuals from India and China.
In terms of numbers, just for employment based category green cards only, USCIS receives about 100,000 green card applications from high-skilled applicants of Indian origin every year.
So, on one hand USCIS receives more than 100,000 green card applications from populous countries such as India, it awards only 5600 green cards in EB2/EB3 category to Indian applicants. On the other hand, countries like Qatar may have only 50 applicants but still have 5600 green cards reserved for them. This results in decades long green card wait for applicants from Indian origin but applicant from every other country can get within few months to a year after applying.
IMPACT OF THIS PROBLEM
While these high-skilled immigrants are subjected to such decades long backlogs, they face lot of hardships affecting their day to day life, their future and ultimately US economy. Let’s list few of these below:
- First and foremost , they cannot start new ventures and cannot hire more American workers.
- They have no option but to continue in the same roles in an indentured servitude. This not only hurts their career aspirations, but more importantly it puts American workers/citizens at a greater disadvantage as well, such scenarios where employees stuck in green card backlog continues in the same role for years without career advancements facilitates wage suppression.
- They cannot change employers, accept role changes/promotions easily and if they do, they’ve to start green card process all over again.
- Since visa revalidation has been discontinued inside US, if they travel outside the country, they’ve to spend days in getting their passports stamped every 3 years and sometimes get stuck outside USA for weeks and months in background checks and admin processing. This also results in inconveniences for the US Company as the employee is unable to join his work place and continue work.
- Some employers do discriminate when it comes to career growth, promotions. Often when they try to give promotions, they have to do lot of paper work with USICS which takes from months to years and costs a lot of money. This acts as a deterrent in career progression leading to wage depression across the board even hurting American employees.
- Impact on the family is even more brutal. If these high-skilled workers have kids born outside US, when applying for colleges they are considered international students in spite of spending most of their lives in United States. As a result, they are not eligible for any state tuition, scholarships and federal funded research programs. When they turn 21, they have to completely come out as dependent from their parent’s visa and have to find an employer who can file for their work visa. Work visas are currently awarded on the basis of random lottery and hence if their work visa application is not picked up in the lottery, these kids have to self deport themselves outside the country in spite of spending most of their life in United States, legally. If they are lucky to have work visa picked in the lottery, to continue living in United States they have to rely on their employers to file their green card petitions and once filed, they have to stand in line behind everyone else in the same queue where they parents are waiting. Such discriminatory rules, completely shatters future of these H4 Dreamers.
- Even the American born kids of these high-skilled immigrants face such uncertainties. If these high-skilled applicants were to lose their jobs even once during this decades long wait, they have no option but to sell their house, cars, assets and all our belongings at whatever price they get and leave the country and relocate with their families outside USA within 30 days. Many of them who have kids born in USA with US citizenship too are forced to relocate with them. They are born here and have been brought up here and do not know any other country other than the US which they call their home. Their lives will be impacted forever and it would be extremely unfair to them.
- Medical professionals too are not aloof from such discriminatory rules. Doctors are restricted to a geographic area and even if they want they cannot serve patients from outside the areas of their approved labor certifications. These doctors miss out on higher trainings and enhanced research which otherwise could result in better service for their patients and hospitals.
These high-skilled immigrants are forced to live under this uncertain and discriminatory country-based green card allocation system which is decades old, unsuitable, unfair and unjust in the current times.
WHY THIS PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE RESOLVED?
- Fairness: Most importantly discriminating anyone based on country of birth is unfair and unamerican. When these high-skilled applicants are hired based on their skills and experience, awarding them green cards based on country of birth is discriminatory.
- America Retains Talent and Skills: America will retain talent of these high-skilled applicants who have decades of experience and expertise in their profession. Most of these individuals who have a PhD or Master’s degree from prestigious US universities in the field of science, mathematics, technology, medicine and others areas, who have published international papers will benefit America if they stay here instead of going to another country.
- Boost US Economy: If green card backlog is cleared, it will not only provide a huge relief to these law-abiding applicants but will also have huge positive impact on US economy. These workers which represent most experienced and skillful immigrant community, can start their own business, create more jobs, invest more freely and utilize their full potential.
- Stability and Security: It would provide stability and security to these highly-qualified individuals who are stuck in this limbo situations where now their families growing up in the country, but their rights, work and investments are severely restricted.
- Reduce wage suppression: Eliminating backlog would free up labor market which will reduce employer abuse and wage suppression.
- Relief to Immigrant families: It will provide a big relief to high-skilled immigrant families where spouses can use their skills and potential to generate more jobs and kids can get fair and better opportunities at higher education which would boost overall skillset of United States. These families can also travel more freely with ease and more certainty.
WHAT CONGRESS CAN DO TO HELP CLEAR THE BACKLOG?
Clear the backlog with one-time relief
- The employment based backlog was created primarily because of discriminatory per country caps. Most of the house members and senators agree that country caps do not make any sense in employment based category. As congress moves towards overhaul of immigration system, congress can make one-time adjustment by providing green card to all those victims of per country cap who are stuck in such green card backlog. This would be the most fair to everyone.
Clear the backlog over few years by implementing below recommendations
- Remove country quotas in employment based category: The congress should definitely pass a legislation which ends discriminatory country of birth quotas from the employment based quotas. Congress should pass bills such as H.R. 392/S.281 which aims to eliminate country quotas in employment based categories without increasing Green Cards or immigration. Once passed, this legislation should be effective immediately and this could expedite clearing of the backlog.
- Recapture wasted Green Cards: The CIS Ombudsman (an independent agency overlooking USCIS’ performance) 2010 report details that about 500k+ Green Cards have been wasted by USCIS over the years due to inefficiency. See Page 35 of the report. When AC21 was passed in 2000, 180,039 of these were recaptured. This shows congress does have a precedent to recapture wasted Green Cards. This provision was also included in S.744, which passed the Senate in 2013. As per this report, 326,371 Green Cards remain unused. Congress can recapture these Green Cards and reduce the existing Employment-based Green Card backlog. We would like to emphasize here that this is not an increase to the Green Card limit. These Green Cards were already authorized by Congress but were never issued by USCIS due to their inefficiency. Law-abiding high-skilled workers are paying the price for USCIS’ inefficiency, which has had a domino effect on the backlog. We request that the unused Green Cards be recaptured so that it can be used effectively to reduce existing backlog.
- Remove the dependent count from the same pool of employment based category: As clearly pointed out by Senator Cotton and Senator Perdue, even within the employment based pool of green cards, less than half of the Employment-Based Green Cards are given to primarily high-skilled immigrants and rest goes to their dependents. The quota is targeting the number of workers that the economy needs. Why should married workers take away slots from other applicants? If the quota is hit after a worker receives his visa but before his family does, why should they be separated? In order to eliminate the Employment-based Green Card backlog, Employment-based Green Cards should be given to primary applicants and their dependents be excluded from the annual quota. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) code was never clear on whether dependents should be included in the quota. “There is nothing in INA § 203(d) that explicitly provides authority for family members to be counted under the preference quotas. While a derivative is “entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration” as the principal, nothing requires that family members also be given numbers. Is there not sufficient ambiguity in INA § 203(d) to argue even under current law that family members should not be counted against the quotas? There is no regulation in 8 C.F.R. instructing what INA § 203(d) is supposed to be doing. Even the Department of State’s regulation at 22 C.F.R. § 42.32 only parrots INA § 203(d) and states that children and spouses are “entitled to the derivative status corresponding to the classification and priority date of the principal.” 22 C.F.R. § 42.32 does not provide further amplification on the scope and purpose of INA § 203(d).” This is further amplified in the following 2 articles: https://www.cato.org/blog/has-government-been-cheating-legal-immigrants-decades http://blog.cyrusmehta.com/2013/03/the-way-we-count.html
- Temporarily/Permanently increase the percentage of employment based green cards in the overall pool: Currently, US allocated roughly about 7% of total green cards based on skills and experience (excluding dependents) and this is lowest among other developed countries where the percentage of green cards given based on skills and experience is as high as 50%. Congress should consider increasing the limits at least temporarily to help the clear the backlog faster.