How tech giants are responding to the growing green card backlog

In early August, Amazon’s SVP of human resources, Beth Galetti, penned a blog post urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to expedite the processing of employment-based green cards.

The plea was, of course, self-serving — Amazon topped the list of companies applying for green cards in 2019 with 1,500 applications, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. But it did serve to spotlight that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — the agency responsible for issuing green cards — is barreling toward a failure to adjudicate tens of thousands of applications before a September 30 deadline.

Green cards are highly sought after. Unlike temporary work visas (e.g., H-1Bs), they allow workers to freely switch jobs without losing their immigration status. In response to demand (and political pressure), Congress allotted 281,000 employment-based green cards in 2022, up from 262,000 in 2021. (The typical cap is 140,000.) But the pandemic — and restrictive laws under the Trump administration — threw an additional wrench in the largely manual, paper-driven process.

U.S. embassies and consular offices were temporarily closed, creating a long queue of appointments to collect fingerprints and photographs. Annual per-country caps didn’t help matters — according to the Cato Institute, about 875,000 approved petitions for green cards were waitlisted in 2021 because of the limits.

This year, the USCIS claims to have taken steps to expedite adjudication, telling Bloomberg Law in July that it shifted staff resources to prioritize processing green cards and adopted a “risk-based approach” to waive interview requirements. But it’s unclear whether this will be sufficient to prevent tens of thousands of green cards from going unused. As of July 31, the USCIS reported that it had adjudicated around 210,000 applications, leaving over 70,000 to be processed.