In 2022, 45 percent of employment-based (EB) green cards were granted to workers, while the majority went to the family members of immigrant workers, revealing a unique aspect of the U.S. immigration system.
Unlike most OECD countries, the United States combines family and employment-based green card categories, resulting in a higher percentage of family members receiving green cards originally intended for skilled workers. This situation, while not uncommon globally, warrants reconsideration to maintain the balance between family reunification and skilled immigration.
In 2022, 55 percent of EB green cards were allocated to family members, with workers receiving the remaining 45 percent. Notably, Congress set the annual cap for EB green cards at 140,000, but the government issued 270,284 in 2022, utilizing unused family-based green cards from the previous year.
To optimize the system, Congress could exempt family members from the EB green card cap or create a dedicated category for them, ensuring that workers are not displaced by family members. This adjustment could have allowed an additional 147,017 immigrant workers to receive green cards in 2022, a 120 percent increase without altering the cap.
Moreover, 82 percent of those who obtained EB green cards in 2022 were already living legally in the United States, marking a decline from 2021 when 92 percent were adjustments of status. Exempting these status adjustments from the cap would significantly increase the number of skilled workers entering the U.S., particularly benefiting workers on H-1B visas.
Exempting adjustments of status offers a more flexible and open green card system, eliminating the debate over arbitrary cap numbers. It also addresses the per-country caps, reducing the 1.8 million green card backlog and minimizing wait times for Indian immigrants.
To enhance the system further, exemptions based on educational qualifications, occupation, or other criteria could be considered, ensuring that the U.S. continues to attract skilled immigrants while supporting family-based immigration.
By implementing these changes, the U.S. can revitalize its green card system, striking a balance between family unity and skilled immigration, and fostering a more inclusive and dynamic future.