Cato expert urges U.S. govt to radically streamline its immigration system



If you are queuing up for the elusive employer-sponsored green card to the U.S., then be prepared to wait for more than three years. Processing delays has caused the waiting period for the green card to breach the three-year period.

In his recent blog, David J. Bier, the associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, has said: “Immigrant workers seeking a green card—which denotes legal permanent residence in the United States—now face more than a three‐year wait to make it through the government’s regulatory morass.”

Bier who is also an expert on legal immigration, border security, and interior enforcement, has added in the U.S. think-tank’s blog: “Paying a $2,500 fee could cut this wait to “only” 2 years and 5 months. The government has added nearly 16 months to the average green card process since 2016, with more than a year added in 2021 and 2022 alone. These processing delays come on top of the time to wait for a green card cap slot to become available under the annual limits (which can be many years). They also do not include the time spent to comply with regulations prior to the first filing step. This prefiling period can take months.”

According to Bier, the regular processing time for green cards in 2022 grew to 3.2 years from 1.9 years in 2016. If you decide to pay the $2,500 premium processing fee, then the wait time is reduced to 2.4 years now as compared to 1.6 years in 2016.

In his blog, Bier says that the reason behind this delay and backlog of green-card applications is bureaucratic. He states: “Most employer‐sponsored immigrants pass through a six‐part series of bureaucratic steps. Employers must initiate the process, but the employee must participate in each stage.

Most employer‐sponsored immigrants pass through a six‐part series of bureaucratic steps. Employers must initiate the process, but the employee must participate in each stage.

Cause for Delay

In the prefiling stage the applicant and employer require to gather the necessary documents to prove their eligibility for a green card. The public has effectively no information about how long this stage will take. Attorneys say that it could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. This is followed by the prevailing wage determination stage where the Department of Labor evaluates the job duties, skill requirements, and location of the job to assign a specific occupational classification, skill level, and area code. Based on these factors, DOL uses its Online Wage Library to issue a prevailing wage determination. The average wait for the prevailing wage has nearly tripled since 2016.

The next box to tick is the U.S. Worker Recruitment norms. “Under DOL regulations, employers must also recruit U.S. workers through a specified process that involves multiple newspaper advertisements. They must conduct interviews of applicants if their resumés meet the “basic” criteria, even if they do not meet all the criteria,” Bier in his blog points out.

“Employers must then apply for a labor certification from the DOL, which will certify that no “minimally” qualified U.S. worker responded to the job advertisements and that the employer did the required steps,” says Bier. Next, the employers must then file a petition with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS will then verify that the worker is qualified for sponsorship and confirm the employer’s ability to pay. This is one of the few procedures where employers can pay to skip the waiting. The regulations allow an employer to pay a $2,500 fee as compared to $700 normally, to receive a response in 15 days, unless the government wants additional information.

Finally, it is time for the green card application. The green card application (Form I-485) is the request for the employee to adjust status (usually from a temporary work visa status) to legal permanent residence. The worker must undergo a background check, medical screening, and confirm that the original job offer still exists. Bier has pointed out that the time taken for this process to complete has almost doubled since 2016 – from 5.5 months in 2016 to 10 months in 2022.

Massive Processing Backlogs

“The process is leading to massive processing backlogs in the employer‐sponsored immigration system. These processing backlogs are in addition to the backlog of workers waiting for a cap spot to become available. We don’t know how many people are going through the recruitment stage, but the total employer‐sponsored processing backlogs at the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security have more than doubled since 2016,” adds Bier.

In his blog Bier has said that the actual waiting period is much more than the delays caused by the long-drawn process. “With a process this long, it is no surprise that well over 90 percent of immigrants must already be in the United States to obtain employer sponsorship. These delays create a de facto requirement for employees to use an H-1B or other temporary work visa before they can access a green card. In other words, the true government processing time is much longer when you factor in the time it takes to obtain a temporary work visa before an employer begins the green card process,” he says.

More Cause for Concern

Bier says that there is more reason to be concerned as the wait period could get longer. “Sadly, the Department of Labor is gearing up to finalize a rule very soon that, among other problems, will take more resources away from processing prevailing wage applications. It is also planning to release another rule that will directly complicate prevailing wage determinations for green cards and H-1B visas. This is the exact opposite of what the government should be doing to alleviate the processing delays in the employer-sponsored immigration system,” he has written in his blog.

Bier says that all these procedures are unnecessary and that employees with a green card can negotiate fairly for wages since they can leave to find another employer. In his blog, Bier states: “There is no reason to require U.S. worker recruitment since immigrant workers create an equivalent demand for U.S. workers elsewhere in the economy. Employers can judge a worker’s qualifications better than a government entity. Requiring health screenings and background checks of workers who were already screened abroad and who are now living in the United States for years is just absurd.”

He also cautions that America stands to lose the global competition for talent when other countries grant green cards in a matter of a few weeks or months, not years. He adds: “It’s time for the U.S. government to radically streamline its immigration system and eliminate unnecessary burdensome procedures.”