Home Feature 1.1 Million Indian Immigrants Face 134-Year Wait For Green Card

1.1 Million Indian Immigrants Face 134-Year Wait For Green Card

1.1 Million Indian Immigrants Face 134-Year Wait For Green Card
Indian families have a lifetime wait before they receive a green card - image courtesy: Pexels

According to the Cato Institute, more than 400,000 Indians waiting to immigrate will die before they receive a green card

By Shabnam Arora Afsah

Indian immigrants on waitlist

America, the land of opportunity, continues attracting immigrants from all over the world. However, gaining permanent residency or citizenship is fraught with hurdles, especially in the past century, where becoming American has become increasingly cumbersome and discriminatory. Immigrants from India will have to wait a lifetime to get their green cards.

For the 1.1 million Indians waiting to process their applications for permanent residency, according to the Cato Institute, the queue is only getting longer. “More than 400,000 will die before they receive a green card,” wrote David Bier, the associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute. The U.S. restricts its employment-based green cards to only 140,000 per year and places remaining names on a waitlist once it fills the yearly quota. The law allows each country no more than 7% of available green cards.

This makes it nearly impossible for Indians to immigrate to the U.S. within a reasonable timeframe legally. Sources state Indians face a 134-year wait for a green card. As a result, many Indians are resorting to entering the U.S. illegally, at times with dire consequences. In one horrific incident, a young family of four lost their lives trying to cross into the U.S. across the Canadian border. A recently published article in the Washington Post reveals that Indians are now the third largest group of undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. through the Mexican or Canadian border.

The history of race-based quotas

In the 1920s American lawmakers established race-based quotas which favored white Europeans. People from northern and Western Europe emigrated here more easily than legal migrants from other countries. Records show that before race-based caps were instituted, 98% of immigrants who applied for residency were approved each year, but after caps were introduced the number dropped to 16%.

In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act and removed quotas, but only allowed immigrants who were already here to sponsor their extended families; the system continued to favor white Europeans.

However, the economic potential of America continued to draw a steady flow of undocumented migrants from across its long border with Mexico. Several legislative attempts in the 1970s and the 1980s tried to curb this illegal migration but did not pass due to political impasses. Finally, in 1986, various political factions struck a compromise that created a new program for farmworkers (prompted by the chronic shortage of agricultural labor). The bill also provided a way for employers to hire undocumented migrants and it funded increased border security measures.

The Politics of Immigration Reform

As the world’s largest economy, America continues to attract increasing waves of migrants though the U.S. immigration system is broken. In its current form, the acute shortage of resources in the system cannot stem the flow of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border, while a quota system has created a huge backlog in processing applications that have clogged pathways to legal immigration. Current quotas cannot meet the demand for immigrant visas.

According to the Cato Institute, the U.S. now approves only 3% of permanent residency/green card applicants – a record low. The processing backlog has grown from 10 million applications in 1996 to 33 million in 2024.

Failed Bills

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that immigration reform is critical but have different views on how to proceed. In 2006, former President George W. Bush, teamed up with Republican Senator John McCain and Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy to push for comprehensive immigration reform that included a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, stronger border security measures, and a program for employers to legally hire foreign workers. The bill cleared the Senate but failed to pass the House following fierce anti-immigration lobbying.

In 2013, during Barrack Obama’s presidency, a bill that would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship and more work visas for skilled foreign workers failed to gain support in the House after the Republican majority labeled it an “amnesty bill.”

Anti-Immigration Trends

The Brooking Institute predicts that by 2045, according to the Census, America will become ‘minority white’ as the white population ceases to have the majority it has enjoyed since the country was founded The anti-immigration stance and restrictive immigration laws supported by the Republican Party are an attempt to slow down this demographic trend.

In 2023, 73% of Republicans wanted a reduction in immigration. It’s a significant rise in anti-immigrant sentiment up from 46% in 2008, prompted say experts by right-wing media, and further inflamed by Donald Trump’s rhetoric. In 2016 when Donald Trump was elected President, the polarization over the issue of immigration only worsened. His ban on Muslim immigrants and hype over “caravans of migrants flowing across the border,” deepened the rift between conservative, moderate, and progressive voters.

In contrast, only 18% of Democrats supported reduced immigration versus 39% in 2008.

Immigration Issues in the 2024 Election

A recent Gallup poll reported that immigration is the top concern influencing voter behavior in the upcoming election, over economic growth, inflation, or national security, with 57% of Republicans and 22% of registered Independent voters calling it an urgent issue.

Donald Trump’s populist agenda and campaign speeches reiterate that “immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country.” His campaign ads highlight the broken immigration system with promises to end the flow of immigrants over the southern border, though it is a 2015 campaign promise he failed to deliver while in office.

A Pew Research Center survey shows that most Americans are dissatisfied with how the government is handling the current border crisis. Republicans in Congress have consistently stymied any legislative wins for the Biden administration, failing to provide adequate resources to resolve the border crisis. The Department of Homeland Security reports increasing encounters between migrants and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel.

An urgent need for reform

The quota numbers cannot keep up with the 1.1 million Indians and other immigrants who want to enter the U.S. legally. The huge backlog is driving desperate migrants to illegal means. Legislative reform is urgently needed to rectify bottlenecks in the immigration system. In February, the Senate introduced the text of a bipartisan Immigration reform bill that includes a $118 billion package to help reduce border crossings and tighten the asylum system. However, the GOP-controlled House scuttled the bill though it was originally drafted by Republican lawmakers, under pressure from their presidential nominee, Donald Trump, fearing that passing the bill would give President Joe Biden undue advantage in the November election.

For voters, the choice lies between supporting immigration reform to facilitate legal pathways for immigrants or choosing restrictive policies that ensure the migrant crisis continues to fester.


cropped-Shabnam-Arora-Afsah-80x80Shabnam Arora Afsah is a writer, lawyer, and short story writer who is working on her first novel based on the Partition of India. She is a committed political activist and also runs a food blog for fun!

Courtesy: India Currents (Posted on March 21, 2024)


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