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Green Light to Growth: Estimating the Economic Benefits of Clearing Green Card Backlogs

Millions of people sit 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.

These backlogs have clear human costs. Many people face the risk of having to leave the country if they lose their jobs before they achieve LPR status. 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.

Importantly, the backlogs also have considerable economic costs. 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 U.S. labor force, contributing their knowledge and skills, and supporting an economy that is struggling with declining labor force participation due to its aging population. This report quantifies the economic benefit that would be achieved if the current employment and family-based green card backlogs were cleared.

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