The United States is grappling with an unprecedented backlog of employment-based green card applicants, with the number reaching a staggering 1.8 million in the current year. This backlog primarily affects immigrants sponsored by U.S. employers or investors, who find themselves stuck in lengthy queues due to annual green card limits and country caps. Notably, Indian immigrants constitute the largest portion of this backlog, enduring the longest wait times and facing significant challenges, including the unfortunate reality of some applicants passing away before obtaining their green cards.
The Green Card Process
The green card application process involves two main stages:
- Employer Sponsorship: The initial step begins when an employer files a petition for an immigrant worker. If there are no green cards available within the annual limits, the petition is placed on hold until a spot becomes available.
- Green Card Application: Once a green card spot becomes available, the immigrant worker can file an application for permanent residence. This process also applies to investors and special immigrants, including interpreters from Afghanistan and Iraq, and abandoned immigrant children.
As of March 2023, there were 80,324 pending petitions (I-140, I-360, and I-526), representing approximately 171,635 individuals, including the spouses and children of the workers. Additionally, 1.3 million applicants were in a holding pattern, and 289,000 were awaiting the processing of their green card applications. While there are immigrants waiting for visa issuance at U.S. consulates abroad, no specific data is available. It’s worth noting that some petitions in the backlog may be duplicates, leading to potential overcounting. There is also a backlog of 123,234 labor certification applications, which is the first step in the employment-based green card process.
Breakdown of the Backlog
- Over half of the backlog falls within the EB-2 category, which encompasses workers with advanced degrees employed by U.S. businesses.
- Approximately 19 percent of the backlog belongs to the EB-3 category, which includes workers with at least bachelor’s degrees.
- The EB-4 category for special immigrants accounts for around 13 percent of the backlog.
- About 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 require a college degree for their positions.
- The majority, roughly 63 percent, of the 1.8 million cases in the backlog are from India, totaling 1.1 million applicants.
- China contributes nearly 14 percent to the backlog, with nearly 250,000 applicants.
- The Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala collectively make up almost 10 percent of the backlog, mainly in the EB-4 category.
Long Wait Times
- For new applicants from India in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories, the backlog translates to an astonishing wait time of 134 years.
- Tragically, an estimated 424,000 employment-based applicants, primarily Indians, are expected to pass away while waiting for their green cards.
- Chinese applicants in these categories face a lengthy wait of 17 years.
The Biden administration has recently adjusted the application of country caps for the EB-4 category, aiming to allocate more green cards to the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico at the expense of other nations. However, even with these changes, these countries will still contend with decades of waiting.
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Source: Hindustan Times