Backlog for Skilled Immigrants Tops 1 Million: Over 200,000 Indians Could Die of Old Age While Awaiting Green Cards

16 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2020

See all articles by David Bier

David Bier

Cato Institute - Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity

Date Written: March 30, 2020


To receive lawful permanent residence in the United States, an employment‐​based immigrant must first become the beneficiary of a petition usually submitted by an employer that requests that the government allow the immigrant to apply for a green card. Even with an approved petition, an immigrant cannot apply for a green card unless the green card cap is unfilled. Because demand has increased since Congress last updated the cap 30 years ago, the number of approved immigrants whom the cap is preventing from applying for green cards is skyrocketing.

As a result of the outdated green card limits, these immigrants are waiting in a backlog that has reached an unprecedented length. New data on beneficiaries of approved employment‐​based petitions for green cards from a Cato Institute Freedom of Information Act request show how much the system needs reform:

For the first time, the U.S. government has approved more than 1 million petitions for workers, investors, and their families who cannot receive legal permanent residence solely as a result of the low green card caps.

The government is approving nearly two petitions for employment‐​based immigrants for every green card it is issuing to them. At the current rate of increase, the backlog will exceed 2.4 million by 2030.

Skilled Indian workers make up 75 percent of the employment‐​based backlog, and recently backlogged Indian workers face an impossible wait of nine decades if they all could remain in the line.

More than 200,000 petitions filed for Indians could expire as a result of the workers dying of old age before they receive green cards.

Indian and Chinese immigrants had average wage offers two and a half times U.S. median wages—$30,000 higher than the average offer for other immigrants—yet they face waits that are decades longer.

Indians endure much longer waits because the law imposes limits on the number of green cards for immigrants from any single birthplace and because U.S. employers file far more petitions for Indians than the limits allow. With recent skilled Indian workers facing a de facto ban on legal permanent residence based solely on their place of birth, Congress should prioritize the removal of these limits. However, this reform alone would still leave unsustainable waits of more than a decade for every employer‐​sponsored immigrant and allow the backlog to escalate past 2.4 million by 2030. To avoid driving billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of thousands of skilled workers abroad, Congress must quickly increase the number of employment‐​based green cards before this problem worsens.

Keywords: immigration, backlog, indians, green card, ICE, permenant residence, skilled immigrants

JEL Classification: J6, J60, J61, J62

Suggested Citation

Bier, David, Backlog for Skilled Immigrants Tops 1 Million: Over 200,000 Indians Could Die of Old Age While Awaiting Green Cards (March 30, 2020). Cato Institute, Immigration Research and Policy Brief No. 18, March 2020, Available at SSRN:

David Bier (Contact Author)

Cato Institute - Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity ( email )

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