The U.S. is mulling a reduction in the number of green cards issued based on family ties and an increase in the share of skill-based immigrants. In his speech at the Rose Garden in May 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “Every year, we admit 1.1 million immigrants as permanent legal residents. Currently, 66% of legal immigrants come here on the basis of random chance. They’re admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States. Under the senseless rules of the current system, we’re not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated number one in his class from the finest colleges in the world.”

As the total number of green cards (which allow foreign nationals to reside legally in the U.S. permanently) issued is proposed to remain the same, the idea may benefit highly-skilled Indians who wish to settle down in the U.S.

Skill over family

The merit-based immigration proposal aims to substantially increase the share of green cards issued based on employment or educational skill and merit. “The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12 to 57%, and we’d like to even see if we can go higher,” said Trump.

Currently, 12-13% of legal immigrants are admitted into the U.S. based on skill and merit. Another 66% are given lawful permanent resident status based on their family ties. They are either immediate relatives (spouse, minor child or parent) of U.S. citizens, are closely related (adult sons and daughters both married and unmarried, brothers and sisters) to U.S. citizens, or have familial ties (spouse, minor child, adult sons and daughters) with existing green card holders. The rest (21%) are given green cards for humanitarian relief or are chosen based on random lottery.

The proposal aims to bring down the number of green cards issued on family-ties from 66% to 33% and those issued on humanitarian and other grounds from 21% to 10%. The chart shows these proposed changes in percentage.

Proposed changes in issue of green cards

Where India stands

Indians received 17% of all employment based green cards in 2017 – the highest among all nations — while receiving only 5% of the family-based ones. 14% Chinese immigrants received lawful permanent resident status based on employment  — second to India.

Almost 20% of all immigrants who settled in the U.S. based on their family ties in 2017 were from Mexico. The number of Mexicans who received green cards under the family quota has been the highest among all countries every year since 2013. On the contrary, only about 5% of Mexicans were given legal immigrant status based on employment among all such immigrants. Mexicans may be impacted if the proposal to decrease family-based green cards by half becomes a law.

The graph shows the share of employment-based and family-based green card beneficiaries across select countries in 2017.

Country-wise split

Better skilled

The U.S. issues employment-based green cards to foreign nationals having extraordinary ability in the professional sphere, academia and sport, or foreign-born nationals who hold advanced degrees and are skilled and have exceptional ability. The detailed classification of the employment-based categories is as follows:

  • EB-1: Priority workers (Foreign nationals with extra-ordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, Outstanding
  • professors and researchers, Certain multinational managers and executives).
  • EB-2: Foreign nationals who are members of the professions holding advanced degrees or who have exceptional ability.
  • EB-3: Skilled workers, professionals or other workers.
  • EB-4: Religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, broadcasters, armed forces members, NATO-6 employees and their family members,
  • etc.
  • Between 2012 and 2017, over 86% of the total Indian immigrants in the U.S. had at least a bachelor’s degree. This is the largest proportion of
  • highly skilled immigrants among all nations. Such immigrants from China and Mexico accounted for 58% and 16% of their totals respectively.        The chart plots the total immigrants against the high-skilled from each country.

From where do high-skilled immigrants come?

Longer queues

As of 2018, Indians waited for an average of 8 years and 6 months — the longest among all countries — for a green card to be available. Mexican green-card hopefuls had to wait an average of 8.4 years, followed by those from the Philippines and China who had to wait for 8 years and 5.4 years respectively. The average global wait time was six years as of 2018.

Under the employment quota EB-3 (skilled workers and professionals) Indians had to wait an average of 10.5 years for a green card to be available. Under the quota EB-2 (foreign nationals who are members of the professions holding advanced degrees or who have exceptional ability) the average wait period for an Indian green card aspirant was 9.2 years. These wait periods might reduce significantly if the proposal is implemented.

The table shows the average years waited, until green card became available, across select nationalities as of 2018.