For decades, the suffering of undocumented immigrants has been at the forefront of national political debates in the United States. However, there is one group of immigrants whose plight has mostly gone unnoticed or overlooked. It’s the 1.2 million people who are waiting in line for work-based green cards.
The bulk of those who are caught in the work-based green card backlog is Indian nationals who are currently living and working in the United States and work in the information technology sector. A Large number of them applied for permanent residency in the United States as early as the 1990s.
The United States issues just 1,40,000 green cards each year to people who want to immigrate because of their job. A US regulation states that no single country can receive more than 7% of green cards in any given year, which is why Indian nationals are experiencing significant delays in gaining permanent resident status.
This indicates that under the employment-based green card category, no more than 9,800 Indian people can be admitted as permanent residents each year. Indians make up the bulk of professionals who come to the United States each year on two popular work visas, the H-1 and L-1.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Indian individuals made up approximately 75 per cent of the over 4,21,000 H-1B visa applicants in the fiscal year 2019. These data include both new visa petitions and visa renewal petitions.
Chinese nationals came in second with 12% of the vote. Similarly, Indian citizens make up the majority of professionals in the country on L-1 visas. H-1B and L-1 visa holders are only allowed to stay and work in the United States for a certain amount of time. As a result, after a few years of coming to the United States, the vast majority of the file for permanent resident status.
Hundreds of thousands of Indians apply for green cards each year, with some years seeing over a hundred thousand. With only 10,000 Indians qualifying for green cards each year, the overwhelming majority of those who apply will have to wait their turn. Forbes pointed out the absurdity of the backlog earlier this year, writing, “Without a change in immigration law, the last individual born in India waiting in the employment-based immigrant queue is scheduled to acquire a green card somewhere in the year 2216—195 years from now.”
“The backlogs have created uncertainty for big companies and caused anxiety for our employees and their families who have, in some cases, waited decades to achieve permanent resident status,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a recent letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Those who are waiting for a green card and the immigration activists who support them have been lobbying for years to abolish the nation limit, calling the system discriminating. A number of lawmakers have introduced measures in the US Congress in recent years to repeal the national cap.
The problems of people in the queue were exacerbated by the fact that, in the aftermath of Covid-19, the processing time for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has significantly increased. In the previous fiscal year, the agency apparently failed to meet its yearly quota of 1,40,000 people.
Those in the green card backlog are left in limbo as a result of this. They are unable to change occupations because they are unsure about their future, as doing so would require them to begin the green card process all over again in some situations. Furthermore, many people avoid purchasing or investing in real estate because of their ambiguous immigration status.
During the first two decades of the twenty-first century, there were two failed attempts to alter the US immigration system. Because of the existing polarization and divided structure of American politics, it does not appear that any meaningful reform will occur in the first decade of this decade. This suggests that the Indians who are now in the process of obtaining a green card will most likely have to wait a long time.
Nevertheless, the immigration system in the United States will be modified at some point in the future. When it occurs, the years spent in limbo for many will be compensated with green cards thanks to the efforts of Indian American supporters with clout in both political parties.