Immigration Policy: New report quantifies economic benefits of clearing green card backlog by US government


Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington DC based think tank, has released a report on Wednesday addressing the issue of millions of people waiting in green card backlogs, waiting to receive lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in the United States. “Some of these individuals are waiting for their petition to be adjudicated and, they hope, approved. Even if approved, many still wait decades before they receive their green card due to annual green card limits set in law.Hundreds of thousands of people will likely die before they can receive the green card for which they have already been approved,” the report said. As is well known, Indian professionals, working in the US, form the largest number of skilled workforce who are stuck in very long green card queues. This report, in fact, adds to the growing chorus of research that emphasises the vital importance of policy change to deal with green card backlogs in the US.
Commenting on the human costs of the green card backlogs, the report said that many people face the risk of having to leave the US if they lose their jobs before they achieve LPR status. On the other hand, the backlog also has serious consequences for Americans, as essential jobs, such as nurses and national security staff, go unfilled while foreign workers remain in the backlog to receive their green cards, the report noted.
Importantly, the backlogs also have considerable economic costs, according to the report. In some important observations, that will ease the lives of millions of Indians in the US if implemented in immigration policy, restrictions on the jobs people can take while in the backlog prevent individuals from working in roles best suited to them, constricting productivity. Keeping people outside of the country when they have been approved for a green card prevents them from joining the US labour force, contributing their knowledge and skills, and supporting an economy that is struggling with declining labour force participation due to its aging population.
The 32-page report quantifies the economic benefit that would be achieved if the current employment- and family-based green card backlogs were cleared. “We estimate the total green card backlog, both employment- and family- based green card backlogs, to comprise 7.6 million individuals. This includes pending applications (the “processing” backlog) and approved applications waiting for green card availability (the “cap-based” backlog). Under our central estimate, clearing this backlog would increase gross domestic product (GDP) by $3.9 trillion over 10 years,” is a key takeaway of the report.
Most of the economic benefit comes from new entrants to the country, with a significantly smaller but still positive benefit arising from those already in the United States moving from temporary to permanent immigration status, the report says.
“These GDP gains result from new entrants to the United States and adjustments from temporary to permanent status for those currently inside the country. The economic benefit of status adjustments has gone largely unquantified in previous studies.”
The report further says that increasing green card limits and resources for visa processing are the main policies that would deliver the GDP benefits. Steps suggested in this context include clearing cap-based backlogs that would be responsible for 71% of the GDP benefit and clearing processing backlogs that would be responsible for the remaining 29%. “This underlines the vital importance of legislative changes that increase green card limits,” the report highlights.
It has been highlighted, however, that without simultaneously increasing resources for visa processing, changing green card limits may have a limited effect on cap-based backlogs.
In assessing the economic benefits of clearing backlogs, the report says that they are distributed across states, with wealthier states receiving more benefits on average. “The highest estimated GDP benefit goes to California (19%), followed by New York (13%), Florida (11%), Texas (10%), and New Jersey (6%)—the five states with the largest immigrant populations.”
“Decentralised state-based visa programmes could help distribute immigrants more evenly throughout the United States. Such programmes could allow immigration to be a tool to reduce economic inequality between states and enhance international competitiveness.”
However, without prompt action, visa backlogs will continue to grow, as they have for decades, the report has warned.


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