Congress must address employment-based Green Card backlog

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Additionally, family members sponsored along with the applicant count toward the annual cap, and up to half the allotted Green Cards every fiscal year go to dependents. Further, every fiscal year, due to bureaucratic delays with our paper-based application system, thousands of Green Cards fail to get issued. Some estimates place the total number of Green Cards that should have been issued over the past 8-10 fiscal years at more than 300,000.

The per country limit, annual Green Card cap and failure to distribute every Green Card available, are roadblocks put into the employment-based system by Congress itself. We have unwittingly created an open-door policy for international students to receive a world-class education in the U.S., only to close that door behind them when they graduate. This has serious implications for U.S. economic competitiveness as these graduates, with sterling academic credentials, are now marketing their talents in a global marketplace, transferring their skills to new homelands where they will work and live, ultimately competing against our economy.

Because of these challenges, I believe bipartisan support exists in Congress to make legislative changes to our employment-based system, making it viable for both employers and highly-skilled workers.

First, Congress should eliminate the per country limit, which has been a staple of the family-based system, but is not needed in what should be a market-driven, first-come, first-serve system for American businesses. Second, the approximately 300,000 Green Cards that weren’t issued should be “recaptured” and applied in future fiscal years. Third, Congress should consider a visa rollover system, where Green Cards not issued during a fiscal year are automatically rolled over to the next fiscal year, preventing backlogs from developing again.

Fourth, Congress should create Green Card portability, enabling employers and employees with job flexibility without disadvantaging either while the Green Card application is pending. Currently, an employee who accepts a promotion, increased salary or new job responsibilities, faces the end of their Green Card application, going to the back of the waiting line and re-filing a new application. Conversely, they could also maintain their current place in line by turning down what may be a well-deserved promotion or salary raise. Neither situation benefits American businesses or their employees, as current wait times may stretch between 10-20 years.

Lastly, Congress can ease this backlog and prevent future ones by making exemptions from the annual Green Card cap. By exempting dependents, health care professionals and students with advanced degrees from American universities in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, Congress can enable these qualified applicants to transition to the workforce with Green Cards in hand.

The story of Kunal Bahl from India is illustrative of the crossroads Congress finds itself on this issue. Bahl received his business degree from the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and he co-founded a detergent company in college that now sells products to more than 3,000 stores in the U.S. Despite his desire to remain in America, he was unable to stay here permanently, and returned to India and founded what is now one of the fastest-growing companies in that nation. His story was featured by NBC Nightly news in its series entitled, “America at the Crossroads.”

It’s time for Congress to act, so highly-skilled immigrants can finally get their Green Cards and American citizenship, and truly experience the blessings of the American Dream.

Dr. Puneet Arora, from Los Angeles, is one of the leaders of Immigration Voice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about the Green Card backlog in the employment-based system. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee on Tuesday.