Crisis in employment green cards

A lot of people are saying that low birth rate in the U.S. (now 1.64, close to Europe’s and below the replacement rate of 2.1) justifies a higher level of immigration for economic prosperity. This argument is weak, unsupported in my view by a plausible model that higher population growth translates in more economic prosperity per person or household. However, I agree with idea that a higher level of immigrating workers than the trend in the past 20 years is good for our economy.

The Biden immigration proposal (here) does this by greatly increasing the flow of employment-based immigration, from 12% to 34% (with an overall increase from about 1.1 million to 1.5 million a year).

The Migration Policy Institute shows that employment based immigration is crippled by several severe problems. First, the 140,000 or so cap on employment based green cards (the source of the 12% figure) produces much fewer workers, because the 140,000 figure includes spouses and children. In fact, only about 77,000 workers (7% of total immigration) is for workers who awarded green cards on the basis of their work.

There is a very skewed, huge backlog: “If everyone with an approved petition in the backlog for an employment-based green card as of November 2020 stayed in that line until a green card became available, Indian nationals would wait an impossible 223 years for a second-preference category (EB-2) green card, while workers from countries other than India and China would face no wait at all.”

And, there is an overburdened, high overhead temporary work visa system. “In fiscal year (FY) 2019, the State Department issued 644,000 multiyear visas to temporary workers and their spouses—nearly five times more than the number of employment-based green cards available each year. Nearly half of those visas went to H-1B workers and their dependents, a growing number of whom stay in the country past the normally allowed six years while waiting in line for green cards.”

The severe constraints on legal employment immigration and temporary work visas encourages persons to come to work illegally, primary through visa over-stays (less so border crossings).

The Biden proposal, and even the “Dignity” proposal of Republican congress members (here), contemplate the historic legal overhaul leading to higher numbers of immigrants on the basis of employment.

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