The broken system hurts immigrants—and makes it harder for the United States to compete.
When my friend Lakshminarayana Ganti, an operations management and cybersecurity specialist from India, texted me this year to let me know that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had “lost” the $1,225 check his lawyer had submitted as payment for processing his green card application, I wasn’t especially shocked. Such incompetence is commonplace in U.S. immigration bureaucracy, and most immigrants to the United States have experienced or heard of similar treatment.
The resulting delay though meant that his eligibility for a green card lapsed—the official term is “retrogressed”—and he could now be looking at another year or more before he can reapply. He has already been waiting nearly 10 years. Travel outside the country is severely restricted for green card applicants; he will miss the overseas wedding next February of his nephew, his only close relative currently living in the United States. Both he and his employer, a data management company in Washington, will face thousands of dollars in additional legal expenses to renew his work permit and refile applications.
Ganti has a great deal of company these days. At the end of 2021, there were 1.4 million immigrants on temporary visas working in the country and waiting for the U.S. government to issue them green cards that will finally give them permanent residence and a path to citizenship. David Bier, an immigration expert at the Cato Institute, calculates that the backlog is now so long that more than 200,000 eligible people could die without ever receiving their green card. Some 90,000 children of people in the backlog will “age out”—turning 21 years old without the permanent status in the United States that they would have gained if a parent had received a green card, at which point they must either leave the country, marry a U.S. citizen, or remain as an unauthorized immigrant. More than 80 percent of those caught in the backlog are from India.