The number of immigrants who are waiting for employment-based green cards in the United States has reached a new record high of 1.8 million this year.
These are immigrants who have been sponsored by U.S. employers or investors, but are stuck in a long queue due to low annual limits on green cards for these categories. The queue is also affected by the country caps, which prevent any country from receiving more than 7 percent of the green cards unless they are unused by other countries.
This means that immigrants from India, who make up 1.1 million of the backlog, face the longest waits and the most deaths before they can get their green cards.
How to get a Green Card?
The first stage is when an employer files a petition for an immigrant worker. If there is no green card available for that worker under the annual limits, the petition is put on hold until a spot opens up.
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The second stage is when a worker can file an application for permanent residence (the green card application) when a spot becomes available for them. There is also a similar process for investors and special immigrants, who include interpreters from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as some abandoned immigrant children.
As of March 2023, there were 80,324 petitions pending (I‑140, I‑360, and I‑526), which represent about 171,635 people including the spouses and children of the workers. Another 1.3 million were on hold, and 289,000 were waiting for their green card applications to be processed.
There were also some immigrants who were waiting for their visas to be issued at U.S. consulates abroad, but there is no data on how many they are. Some of the petitions in the backlog may be duplicates for the same person, so there may be some overcounting. There is also a backlog of 123,234 labor certification applications, which is the first step in the employment-based green card process.
Backlogs, backlogs, and backlogs
More than half of the backlog is in the EB‑2 category for workers with advanced degrees who are employed by U.S. businesses. Another 19 percent are in the EB‑3 category for workers with at least bachelor’s degrees. The EB‑4 category for special immigrants is about 13 percent. Another 6 percent are for EB‑5 investors who create jobs in the United States. The remaining 3 percent are EB-3O workers who do not need a college degree for their jobs. About 63 percent of the 1.8 million cases in the backlog are from India (1.1 million). Another 14 percent are from China (nearly 250,000).
The Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala account for nearly 10 percent (mainly in the EB‑4 category).
For new applicants from India, the backlog for the EB‑2 and EB‑3 categories (which can be switched between) is effectively a death sentence: 134 years.
About 424,000 employment-based applicants will die waiting, and more than 90 percent of them will be Indians. Since Indians are currently half of all new employer-sponsored applicants, this means that about half of all newly sponsored immigrants will never get their green cards.
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Chinese in those categories will have to wait an incredible 17 years. The wait times for Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans in the EB‑4 category are also very long.
The Biden administration recently changed how it applies the country caps for the EB‑4 category so that the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico will get more green cards at the expense of other countries. But even if these countries get all the green cards going forward, they will still face decades of waiting.