The green card conundrum

Written in collaboration with Sayan Sanyal

What’s going on?

Over a million people are in a “temporary resident” status queue. Primarily from India and China, these people need to constantly worry about needing to leave the country for years (decades). This can be worrisome for the United States as this prevents full integration and can adversely impact the economical and technological boost full integration would provide.

Why you should care

As a representative
Since immigrants don’t have the power to vote, this issue may not seem like the best use of a representative’s time. However, even if only for self-seeking reasons, this could help a representative’s career. There are now over 1.8 million people suffering in the “green card backlog queue” source:. This is around the same number of DACA beneficiaries - around 2.3 million - an issue which receives substantially more coverage.

The economic growth in the US is driven largely by immigration. The US is the destination that attracts the most migrants, and immigrants have had a history of driving innovation and pushing the country forward. Recently, the number of immigrants who are coming here with at least a bachelor’s degree is decreasing. We want to continue to incentivize those who can contribute to this dynamic economy and our immigration backlog is jamming that. As the looming debt payment hold, the only answer to the US’s financial situation is sustained growth. We cannot afford a dampener to our economy, and this antiuquated systems jams the economic growth engine of America.

As a US citizen/patriot
As much as immigrants would like to integrate and be a full part of the country’s citizenry, a chance that you may need to leave with only a few months’ notice can have negative impacts on the country. Having immigrants stay on “temporary” status for such long periods (up to a hundred now), causes them to effectively become mercenaries (what I’ll call the mercenary problem). Practically speaking, an ethically questionable task will receive less push-back as the choices are either to retain your job or uproot your life (many have a house + kids) and move elsewhere in a very short timeframe (< 90 days). It’s not hard to see how this can negatively affect the country as a whole.

From a “civil society” perspective
Frankly speaking, given how long most immigrants have been in the “green card queue”, they have a better understanding of immigration law and bureaucracy surrounding it that can help the country get to a better state in the long-term (from the immigration perspective). An engaged voting base is better for a democracy.

Effect on the economy
Unaddressed, many immigrants will return to where they came from, and use most of their savings outside the US, benefiting another country’s economy. It would be better for the US to have them spend whatever they have earned in the US, boosting the economy here instead.

As a temporary resident (someone in the queue) This problem remaining unfixed means you are taxed as a citizen, but unable to avail of benefits you are taxes for like Social Security or Medicare.

As a historian/comedy enthusiast
I’ll let the “constitution center” explain America’s “taxation without representation” motto. link. I appreciate the irony.

What should be done about it?

One way is to pass legislation to remove or increase the per-country limit. Some form of this has been getting introduced into Congress and getting stuck there since 2007! The “Area 51” podcast linked below covers this, and there’s also an entry on Wikipedia if you’d like to learn more.
As a smaller change, allowing free travel (without needing constant visa renewals, applications, bureaucracy, etc.) and allowing all who are affected to start companies and/or freely switch jobs would be a great step forward too (even without granting permanent residency, as this takes care of the mercenary problem).

Why was this put in place?

The intent was to avoid having immigrants needing to renew a visa permanently. Either they achieve the green card in under six years, or they leave the country. The current state leaves everyone worse off.

What you can do

Reach out to representatives asking for the Fairness for high-skilled immigrants act to be passed.
Get the word out. Share this message - with anyone, but in particular with the media, and with people who can vote. Media coverage of this issue has been scant (save for Jon Oliver, who has covered it starting around 8:00 here. See 11:12 for more.
Support others who are getting their voice out. Some immigrants who have efforts ongoing include:

Here’s a petition you can sign, it takes a few minutes, and it will help!