Green Card Backlog Bill: A Guide To Proposed Green Card Reform

What Are The Implications For Highly Skilled Foreign Workers


Among the many problems plaguing the current American immigration system is the imposition of limits on green cards for highly skilled professionals depending on their country of origin. These limits favor immigrants from less populated countries, giving them priority so that they face low wait times for permanent residence at the expense of equally skilled workers from countries with high immigration rates like India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines. Such policies raise significant ethical issues as they depend on the arbitrary metric of nationality for determining the worthiness of one skilled worker over another rather than a merit based standard. Fortunately, legislation with bi partisan support is being introduced in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives to reform this outdated immigration policy.

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The Issue With Current Green Card Policy

According to the standards of current U.S. immigration law, a person’s country of origin is a major determining factor in the length of their wait time for an employment-based immigration visa, colloquially known as a green card. Possession of a green card allows a person to legally live in and work permanently in the United States and constitutes the first step for an immigrant seeking US citizenship. The current policy means that a worker with less experience or education from a country with a lower population and thus less applications for permanent residency has a better chance of receiving a green card quickly than a worker of equal or greater skill from a country with a higher population.

The Impact Of Green Card Policy On US Economic Viability

These restrictions ultimately serve to harm the effectiveness of the United States in recruiting highly skilled international workers. Policies like the per country limit on employment-based immigration perpetuate the idea that obtaining residence in the US and hence contributing to the long-term success of the US economy is more trouble than it is worth. This negative perception encourages valuable workers to consider other countries for relocation. The US economy suffers from this loss of gifted workers on several levels. First, the lack of incentive means that emerging businesses and their significant fiscal resources are drawn away from the US. Second, US companies faced with a dwindling pool of skilled workers will be forced to move resources aboard in order to remain competitive in recruitment.

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The Proposed Legislative Solution

Luckily, there is legislation in work to alleviate the effect of these oppressive policies on skilled immigrants whose only detractor in the eyes of the US immigration system is their birthplace. On February 7th, 2019, Republican senator Mike Lee and Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris introduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in the Senate. The bill would remove the per-country cap for employment based green cards as well asraise the per-country limit from 7% to 15% for family-based immigrants. An equivalent bill was proposed in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Zoe Logfren, a democrat from California and Congressman Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado. It is important to note that Representatives Logfren and Buck are the chair and ranking member (respectively) on the House Immigration and Citizenship subcommittee, granting them the power to bypass committee process and present the bill to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approval to move the bill to the house floor for an official vote. Legislation of this nature has been produced several times in the past with strong bipartisan support for its premise of equalizing the playing field for highly skilled international workers buthas been stalled for years until this month’s reintroduction.

The Potential Outcome For Affected Immigrants

As of 2019, the United States presently makes 140,000 permanent resident cards available annually to employment-based immigrants. Under current immigration laws, no more than 7% of these green cards are allotted to nationals of a single country. This blanket provision does not account for the fact that many countries are more populous than others and inadvertently hurts immigrants with a high level of education from countries like China or the Philippines. The recently introduced legislation would attempt to lessen the pressure on these talented immigrants and strong potential contributors to the US economy by eliminating per country quotas on work based green cards and expanding the cap on family visas. The bill also includes provisions that address potential criticisms and protects immigrants already in queue for legal permanent residence status. There is a provision in the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act which ensures that no one who is the beneficiary of an employment-based immigrant visa approved prior to the bill’s enactment will receive their visa later than if it had not been enacted.


The new bill is a promising piece of legislations that stands to improve the fairness of immigration procedures for highly skilled immigrants as well as indirectly boosting the American economy by facilitating the recruitment of talented international workers.

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