The wait times for employment-based immigrants are of enormous significance to those personally affected by the green card backlog. In the employment-based second preference, or EB-2 category, those waiting are invariably from India or China.
Why Do Indians and Chinese Wait Longer?
The long waits for employment-based green cards are caused by two primary factors: 1) the 140,000 annual quota is too low and 2) the per country limit, which restricts the number of green cards available to skilled immigrants from one country to 7 percent of the total. Due to the per country limit, skilled foreign nationals from India and China, who make up most of the applicants, wait years longer than nationals of other countries.
In the EB-2 Category, There is No Wait for Europeans and Others
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services states, “You may be eligible for an employment-based, second preference [EB-2] visa if you are a member of the professions holding an advanced degree or its equivalent, or a foreign national who has exceptional ability.” Since there is normally a spilling down of unused immigrant visas from the EB-1 category, there are usually about 50,000 immigrant visas available each year under EB-2.
It is quite surprising to most people who hear about it but in the EB-2 category, for the past number of years, individuals sponsored from countries other than India and China have experienced no wait for their green cards, other than processing times. In contrast, many Indian and Chinese have been forced to wait 6 yeas or more for their green cards.
Backlog only for Indians and Chinese in EB-2
The demand for Indian and Chinese highly skilled researchers and professionals, combined with the relatively low quotas and per country limits, has created a backlog in the EB-2 category. However, the backlog has been made up entirely of Indian and Chinese nationals. Earlier this year, it appeared the backlog of Indians and Chinese in the EB-2 category, including dependents, could be as large as 90,000. However, it is likely that number has been decreasing (with some speed) in recent months.
Factors Helping Indians and Chinese in EB-2
It appears the number of green cards available to Indians and Chinese in the EB-2 category has increased in recent years, possibly due to slack demand among individuals from other countries. (A provision in U.S. immigration law allows the per country limit to be, in essence, ignored, if immigrant visas in a category would otherwise go unused.) In the January 2012 Visa Bulletin, the State Department has announced it is inviting applicants with priority dates as of January 1, 2009 to complete the final stage of the green card process. (Priority dates are based on the filing of applications or labor certification.)
This represents rapid movement forward for Indian and Chinese skilled immigrants. Only a year ago, in the January 2011 Visa Bulletin, the eligible priority dates for Indians and Chinese in the EB-2 category were May/June 2006, meaning the priority dates have jumped forward three years in the space of one calendar year.
Eliminating the Per Country Limit Would Help More
It is unknown at this time whether the improvement in the situation for Indians and Chinese in the EB-2 category is only a temporary phenomenon. In any case, because of the per country limit, Indians and Chinese are at a disadvantage if a sufficient individuals from other parts of the world apply for green cards in the EB-2 category. The only thing that will change that situation in the future is legislation that eliminates the per country limit for employment-based immigrants. Such legislation has been held up, at least temporarily, by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). Passing H.R. 3012 in the U.S. Senate would move employment-based immigration to a “first come, first serve” system, without regard to an individual’s country of origin.