Over 4.5 Million Are Waiting for Green Cards—Over 100,000 of them are Employment-Based
The Department of State (DOS) recently published its annual report of immigrant visa applicants (2015 Annual Immigrant Visa Report), which tallies up the number of total applicants—including spouses and children—who are waiting for their respective priority date to become current, allowing for them to obtain their green card. The annual report, which totals the number of applicants up to Nov. 1, 2015, does not take into account those applicants who have adjustment of status applications pending with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as of Nov. 1.
Overall, 2015 saw a three precent increase of total applicants compared against last year, increasing from a total of 4,422,660 for 2014 to 4,556,021 for 2015. This total includes both family-based green cards and employment-based green cards. Employment-based green card applicants only accounted for roughly 100,000 of the 4.5 million. When compared against 2014, the percentage of employment-based applicants waiting to apply for their green cards increased from 90,910 to 100,747—an increase of 10.8 percent.
While a 10.8 percent increase seems like a marginal increase, examining specific categories individually reveals that certain categories—namely Employment First, Second, and Fifth—have grown in popularity with employers and investors. Employment First encompasses green card applications for aliens of extraordinary ability, outstanding researchers, and multi-national managers or executives. From 2014 to 2015, the Employment First category saw an increase of 27.1 percent on the waiting list, from 2,733 to 3,474. Employment Second is reserved for Aliens of Exceptional Ability, which is measured by positions that require a U.S. Master’s degree (or higher), or a Bachelor’s degree and five years of progressive experience. In 2015, there was an increase of 36.5 percent for Employment Second, with 11,440 on the waiting list as opposed to 8,380 in 2014. Finally, Employment Fifth is reserved for investors and entrepreneurs who invest substantial capital into the U.S. economy, among other requirements. Employment Fifth saw the greatest increase from 2014 to 2015—175.2 percent. The specific wait list numbers, broken down by category, are below:
At first glance, the 140,000 of expected employment-based green card approvals this year seems like it would clear the existing backlog of green card applications of 100,747 left from 2015, but this is not the case because there is a seven percent per-country limit, which visa issuances to any single country, including China and India, cannot exceed. What this looks like for applicants from countries such as China and India is that the wait for green cards will only increase, absent legislative or executive action.
Reviewing the 2015 Annual Immigrant Visa Report by country reveals that India and China remain the world’s largest applicants across each Employment Category, a trend that will likely continue into 2016. For Employment First, China represents more than 25 percent of all applicants, with India coming in a distant second at 9.6 percent.
For Employment Second, India accounts for a two-thirds of all applicants at 66.8 percent; China, on the other hand, accounts for only 7.8 percent, falling just behind South Korea at 8.4 percent.
For Employment Fifth, China leads the applicant-pool with 89.6 percent of all applications. The next two countries—Hong Kong S.A.R., and Vietnam, only account for 1.4 percent each.
For 2016, approximately 140,000 employment-based green cards are projected to be approved, meaning that the wait will continue for most of the 100,747 who are already waiting for their priority date to become current so that they can obtain their green cards. As the U.S. economy continues to rebound, it is safe to assume that only more applicants, especially from India and China, will continue to apply for employment-based green cards in the higher preference categories—Employment First, Second, and Fifth—where the wait is shorter as compared to Employment Third and Fourth, reserved for skilled workers, and special immigrants, respectively.