Research Shows Scope of Green Card Backlog

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As concerns grow over H-1B visas, which companies use to employ skilled foreign workers, some experts -- including H-1B opponent Ron Hira -- have suggested that a revamp of the country's process for awarding green cards may be the answer.


As Hira told us earlier this year in an IT Business Edge interview Hira: Visa Programs 'Need to Be Fixed':

You've got people who are very smart and they want to stay here, but there are interminable waits of six, eight, 10 years. That's unacceptable. I am actually in favor of increasing the green card quotas and having a more rational program.

Proposed revisions to the green card system -- albeit ones largely disliked by business owners -- were included in the broad immigration reform bill that died in the Senate earlier this summer.


And U.S. immigration authorities found themselves facing the prospect of a class-action lawsuit when they considered halting acceptance of green card applications for this year in July, rather than in August as originally planned.


So, it's safe to say that not many folks are happy with the status quo.


A study from researchers at Duke, New York and Harvard universities indicates that the scope of the problem may be larger than realized -- though it's hard to tell because, as with the H-1Bs, the government doesn't appear to have many hard numbers on how many people are currently waiting for the coveted documents.


The researchers estimate that some 500,000 foreign workers and their families -- a total of a million or so people -- are currently waiting for green cards. The U.S. grants about 120,000 green cards a year.


In addition, because the U.S. wants no single country to account for more than 7 percent of the employment-based visas it grants annually, applicants from such locales as India and China may end up waiting as long as 10 years.


The researchers say their study is designed to help make people aware that debate over immigration reform needs to encompass the issue of highly skilled foreign workers seeking employment in the U.S., as well as illegal immigrants seeking legal status.


Some of the same researchers produced a report earlier this year that indicated that 25 percent of the country's technology and engineering start-ups had been founded by immigrants.


Some experts have warned that the difficulty in obtaining green cards may lead more talented university graduates to consider establishing businesses in countries other than the U.S.