The per-country limits on employment-based green cards are neither fair nor good for our country

Oct 6, 2017   |   Brad Smith - President

A vigorous and important debate is currently underway about various aspects of the U.S. immigration system. While many ideas are consistently part of these ongoing discussions, one area has not received enough attention: the extraordinary backlog in high-skilled green cards.

The U.S. is fortunate to have talented, high-skilled immigrants from around the world who are contributing their substantial skills to our nation’s companies, paying taxes, investing in our economy and contributing to local communities. But despite sponsorship by their U.S. employers, some individuals face frustrating bureaucratic hurdles in the green card process, including lengthy backlogs of over a decade and uncertain futures. This backlog is the result of a woefully outdated employment-based green card system put in place back in 1990 – the year that “Ice Ice Baby” topped the Billboard Music Charts.

Clearly, the world has changed. Unfortunately, our green card system has not.

One would be hard-pressed to find any aspect of our immigration system less grounded in common sense than the so-called “per-country limits” applied to green cards. The rule is simple even if devoid of logic. It prohibits immigrants from any single country from receiving more than 7 percent of the total number of green cards each year. This limit means that immigrants from large countries like India and China, with populations of well over 1 billion people, have the same maximum number of green card allotments each year—only 9,800—as Liechtenstein, whose total population is less than 40,000 people.

Because of per-country limits, the burden of today’s employment-based green card backlog unfairly falls only on immigrants from India, China and the Philippines. For most employees from India, it is expected to take well over a decade to make it through their country-specific backlog, even after their jobs and skills have been certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to merit green cards. Meanwhile, as of this month, there is no backlog this long for any other country.

This isn’t fair, and it isn’t smart — not if we want the U.S. to be able to continue attracting top talent. The length of a person’s green card process might reasonably be based on a number of legitimate factors, but it shouldn’t be differentiated solely on the size of the population of a person’s country of birth.

These backlogs have a real impact on our employees and their families. Employees worry about limitations to career changes and job growth that could impact their green card process.  Their spouses are often unable to work.  Despite having grown up in the U.S. and attended our schools, their dependent children may be left out if they reach adulthood before their application makes it through the backlog. This kind of uncertainty is not the way to attract the best talent in the world to U.S. companies.

The solution is a modern green card system that allows high-skilled immigrants to stay and continue growing our country’s businesses and our economy. Beyond fixing the overall shortage of green cards, we should eliminate these per-country limits. Solutions to this problem have been proposed, like H.R. 392, the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” led by Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, which has the overwhelming bipartisan support of 271 co-sponsors. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah,introduced an identical measure in the Senate, S. 281, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has previously included the elimination of per-country limits in the “Immigration Innovation Act,” accompanied by reasonable increases in green card numbers to help address the backlog. We enthusiastically support these types of legislative fixes.

It will be difficult for America to remain a leader in global innovation if we cannot put in place a more modern and common-sense based approach to green cards. We are committed to working with the administration and Congress to address lasting reform of our immigration system through meaningful bipartisan solutions that will help strengthen our economy, ensure protections for American workers and give the world’s top talent a reason to continue making a bet on this great nation.

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