Lifetime wait for Indian green card

Ritisha Sharma, Intersections Editor

The wait period for Indian employment-based green cards lasts a lifetime for nearly 200,000 applicants. (Maggie Pasterz)

There are currently over a million people from India who are stuck in an employment-based green card backlog. This backlog has created an eight-decade wait period that is projected to outlast the lifetimes of almost 200,000 applicants. Only half of the original Indian applicants are expected to receive an actual green card. 

A green card allows immigrants to permanently live and work in the United States. Usually, it takes between six months to two years to get an EB green card. However, only 140,000 employment-based green cards are issued each year. From those 140,000, each country is allowed 7% of the green cards issued, but if the number of applicants exceeds the 7% available, the rest of the applicants are pushed onto the next year’s 7%. This leads to the green card backlog which only gets worse every year given that twice as many EB green card applications are submitted each year than there are green cards available.

For India, a country that makes up 75% of the overall EB backlog, immigrants in the queue face the challenge of continuously renewing their work visas, regularly resulting in excessive paperwork and uncertainty. Since these work visas are sponsored by an individual’s workplace, extended wait periods and copious paperwork for green cards make it difficult to get a new job or even a promotion.

Families of those with work visas come to the U.S. as dependents. Dependents include spouses and children. Like work visas, the dependent visa comes with its own challenges such as an inability to find employment, secure an income, receive federal education aid, qualify for scholarships or internships and take out student loans. This forces those with work visas to be the sole financial provider of their entire family.

The challenges for immigrant families do not end there. A person with a work visa who applies for a green card can add their dependents to their application as well, but in the case of their children, they can only remain as dependents as long as they are under the age of 21. Once the children are 21, they age out, meaning they must change their visa type in order to stay in the U.S.  Despite having spent the majority of their childhood in the U.S., they run the risk of visa rejection, deportation and separation from their families and homes.

If the newly 21-year-old manages to get another visa approved, they must reapply for a green card only to find themselves all the way in the back of the line, therefore significantly increasing their wait time for their permanent residency status to be issued.

With immigration hot topics most often being about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants are, in a sense, forgotten. They simply coined the term, “forgotten dreamers,” They do not qualify for the benefits of DACA, California Law AB540, the California Dream Act or the American Dream and Promise Act. 

No systematic immigration reform law has been passed since 1986, and the American system is in dire need of change. President Joe Biden has expressed that he will no longer put immigration reform on the backburner as the presidents before him did.

This year there have been several promising propositions for documented immigration reform. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 makes the EB immigration process more effective. The CHILDREN Act allows for the forgotten dreamers to have jobs and also eliminates the aging out phenomenon. The EAGLE Act would eliminate the 7% per country caps on green cards. Most recently, a new U.S. House of Representatives bill was proposed where, for a certain fee, an individual in the green card backlog can skip the wait and receive their green cards with the next issuing period.

In a country built on immigration, the need for immigration reform is ironic yet very necessary. It is critical to keep lawmakers accountable and to ensure the topic of immigration does not fall onto the back burner again.