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For immigrant workers, green card backlog swells to record high

Many international workers come to the United States with hopes of obtaining a green card. Recent figures, however, suggest they may be left waiting for quite a long time. According to the Washington Post, there are about 800,000 immigrants lawfully working in the U.S. that are in green card limbo.

It is a historically large backlog with no clear end in sight, particularly for workers from one specific country: India.

A large backlog and long wait times

Of those 800,000 legal immigrant workers awaiting a green card, most are from India. In fact, Indian nationals account for about 75% of the backlog for employment-based visas. Why is this?

Over the past three decades, Indian nationals (particularly those in the tech industry) have flowed steadily into America’s immigration system. U.S. law, however, limits the number of green cards that will be issued each year. For example, only 140,000 employment green cards are available each year. In addition, the law mandates applicants from one single country can not take more than 7% of available employment-related green cards.

This has created a bottleneck. More and more international workers are coming to the U.S. and applying for lawful permanent residency. But the number being accepted has not increased at all.

In 2019 alone, the number of Indian workers with pending green card applications was 6,964. That is 35 times higher than the year prior, according to a report from Quartz. Meanwhile, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is currently going through applications from a decade ago.

Considering your options

For the time being, international workers would be wise to consider all of their options. While applicants from some countries may not be able to count on a green card right away, individuals from other nations may have an easier journey. In addition, a permanent residency backlog does not preclude skilled workers from securing an employment-based visa.

It is an unpredictable time for foreign professionals coming to work in the United States. While officials could make policy changes meant to address the backlog, it’s impossible to know when that might happen or what those tweaks will ultimately look like.