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Navigating Immigration Reform: Employer Solutions for Practicable, Effective Reforms

Employment-based Green Cards

Issue | Council-SHRM Proposed Solution | Background

Simply put, there are not enough employment-based (EB) green cards in our immigration system to meet years and often decades of backlogged demand. This limits employees' opportunities to contribute to U.S. employers' success and overall economic growth because without green cards, foreign nationals cannot easily be promoted, change jobs or job locations and often their spouses or partners cannot work. Scientists, engineers and other professionals born in countries of high demand and sponsored for an EB green card today will likely not receive a green card until today's preschoolers are graduating from college unless the system provides more green cards. It is fundamentally in our nation's interest to have a green card system that attracts the best talent to our shores and does not push those already working here away.


"In today's global economy where changes in the technology field occur quickly, an immigration system where an employee must wait decades for a green card hinders U.S. competitiveness, economic growth and innovation."

-Denise Rahmani, Director, U.S. Immigration, Oracle Corporation


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Council-SHRM Proposed Solution
Any immigration reform proposal must eliminate the EB green card backlogs and simultaneously provide enough visas to meet America's future EB green card needs.

This can be accomplished with a variety of reforms, including:

  • Enacting a market-based or escalating green card cap to respond to future demand;
  • Making green cards immediately available to U.S. STEM advanced degree graduates (and their dependents) if the principal applicant has a job offer;
  • Exempting the spouse or partner and children of EB green card holders;
  • Recapturing hundreds of thousands of green cards that went unused in prior ­fiscal years due to agency delays and making them available today;
  • Eliminating the employment-based per-country limits; and
  • Reducing red tape for those waiting in the green card queue through streamlining work and travel authorization, also known as early ­filing.

"The excessive backlogs in the U.S. green card system are getting in the way of us retaining medical professionals that are innovating lifesaving strategies that benefi­t all Americans."

-Claire Sala Ayer, Director, Partners International Offi­ce, Partners HealthCare


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Employment Is Not Prioritized in Current Green Card System

In 2011, employment-based immigration accounted for only 13 percent of total immigration to the United States with principal applicants making up just around 7 percent in total (see Figures 1 and 2). Annually, just 140,000 visas are available to the five employment-based preference categories. The first three EB preferences are each allocated 40,000 visas per year, while the fourth and fifth preferences receive 10,000 visas each. Of those 140,000, less than half go to workers, with 52 percent being used by spouses and children in 2011.[1]



"Unless we want to see the next Google or Intel created overseas, we've got to enact legal immigration reforms that allow foreign-born, U.S.-educated students who have earned advanced degrees to remain and work in the country after they've graduated."

-Senator (then-Representative) Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Computerworld, January 27, 2011

Costly and Long Process

In most cases, a U.S. employer must sponsor a worker for a green card. Generally, an employer must file a labor certification with the Department of Labor to test the labor market and certify there are no able, qualified and willing U.S. workers available for the position. Next, the employer must prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the foreign national is qualified for one of the five EB preference categories. Finally, the foreign national must apply for "adjustment of status" or "consular processing" and prove there are no health, criminal or other reasons why he or she should not be permanently admitted to the United States. This entire process is very costly and often takes years because demand for green cards far exceeds supply. Click here to learn more about costs in the immigration system.


"Of all the crazy rules in our government, the craziest of all, bar none, is that we take the smartest people in the world, we bring them to America, we give them Ph.D.s in technical sciences, and we kick them out, to go found great companies outside of America. This is madness."

-Eric Schmidt, Chairman, Google, CNN, December 15, 2011

Inequality in Wait Times

The EB green card quotas are further broken down into "per-country" limits by worker category. No country can receive more than 7 percent of the EB preference quota. With the first three EB preference allocations each receiving 40,000 visas per year, that roughly equates to 2,800 visas per country for both employees and dependents, regardless of whether the worker comes from a populous country like China or India, or a small country like Palau. The per-country caps often lead to very disparate waits for a green card for two equally qualified candidates who were simply born in different countries. Increasingly, workers with longer waits choose a more predictable option and leave the United States.


"… [W]e must create a modern, 21st century legal immigration system that reflects our legacy. Therefore, we commit to fighting for principled, comprehensive immigration reform that … [a]ttracts the best and the brightest investors, innovators, and skilled professionals, including those in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies, to help strengthen our economy, create jobs, and build a brighter future for all Americans… ."

-Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Principles on Immigration Reform, November 28, 2012

Bipartisan Congressional Agreement on STEM Green Cards

In the 112th Congress, there was bipartisan agreement that the country should provide more green cards to those who have graduated with a U.S. STEM advanced degree and have a U.S. job offer, as indicated by the many bills introduced by both parties in both chambers on this topic, including: H.R. 43, H.R. 399, H.R. 2161, H.R. 3146, H.R. 5893, H.R. 6412, H.R. 6429, S. 1965, S. 1986, S. 3185, S. 3192, S. 3217 and S. 3553. At the beginning of the 113th Congress, the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (S. 169) also aims at this goal. As numerous data show, foreign nationals receive a significant number of U.S. advanced degrees in the STEM fields, such as in engineering (see Figure 3), so we cannot shut the door on these professionals.


"Our immigration system needs to be modernized to be more welcoming of highly skilled immigrants and the enormous contributions they can make to our economy and society."

-Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Press Release, January 29, 2013

Some have proposed that our green card policies should be driven by recommendations from commissions or by point systems. ACIP urges caution and careful attention to detail of any such proposals. For more information on a commission, see ACIP's paper, "Examining Proposals to Create a New Commission on Employment Based Immigration" and learn more about points-based systems and their use by reading immigration attorney Lance Kaplan's testimony, "Use of Points Systems for Selecting Immigrants."

The world's best and brightest have long contributed to the U.S. economy as job creators and innovators, and it does not make sense for our system to be shutting the door and pushing them away while our economic competitors welcome them with open arms. Reforming our employment-based green card system to help retain these professionals is critical to our future.

Download this information as a PDF.

Third Way: Turning Green Cards into Growth - Five Ways the Gang of 8 Immigration Bill Will Make America a Magnet for Global Talent and Fuel Economic Growth

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[1] Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics, "2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics," September 2012,­les/publications/immigrationstatistics/yearbook/2011/ois_yb_2011.pdf.

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As strategic affiliates, the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) help advance U.S. growth, innovation and job creation by supporting employers and their employees as they navigate the most pressing workforce and talent management issues, which includes reform of the U.S. immigration system. Learn more about ACIP at Learn more about SHRM at

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