The green card backlog is significant for employment-based immigrants, particularly for professionals born in India. It’s possible the overall employment-based backlog is close to half a million people. Absent reform of the per country limits and an increase in the annual quotas it will take years – many years – to clear this backlog.
Few people realize there is a surprising cause for at least some of the backlog – unused employment visas. Since the 1990 Act, the annual quota for employment-based green cards has been 140,000. That includes both the principals and dependent family members.
However, even though the annual quota has been 140,000, that does not mean 140,000 green cards were awarded each year. Due to administrative issues within the federal government, in several years the quota was underutilized. This is detailed in the 2010 Annual Report of the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman.
As Table 1 illustrates between FY 1992 and FY 2006, more than 506,000 employment-based immigrant visas went unused. The data were provided to the Ombudsman by the U.S. Department of State. In 1995, for example, there were 58,694 employment-based visas that went unused. In 1997, the number that went unused was 40,170. In 1999, the number reached 98,491. As recently as 2003, 88,482 unused visas authorized by Congress were not used due to administrative problems within the federal government.
As the table shows, of the 506,410 employment visas that went unused since the 1990 Act, only 180,039 have been recaptured via special legislation. It is likely most members of Congress do not realize this many green cards authorized by Congress have gone unused. It would take special legislation for the visas to be reauthorized. If Congress were to reauthorize the use of the remaining 300,000-plus unused visas accumulated over the years it would significantly reduce the waiting times for employment-based immigrants and give such immigrants their chance at the American Dream.
Unused Employment-Based Visas FY 1992-FY 2009
Source: U.S. Department of State; USCIS Ombudsman,
Annual Report to Congress, June 2010, p. 35.