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Employer-Sponsored Green Card Processing Takes Over Three Years 

David J. Bier

Immigrant workers seeking a green card—which denotes legal permanent residence in the United States—now face a wait time of more than three years to make it through the government’s regulatory morass. Paying a $2,805 fee could cut this wait to “only” two and a half years. The government has added 15 months to the average green card process since 2016. These processing delays come on top of the time to wait for a green card cap slot to become available under the annual green card caps (which is often many years). They also do not include the time spent complying with regulations prior to the first filing step. This prefiling period can take months.

Total green card processing times

2024 regular processing time (end of Q1): 1,146 days / 38 months / 3.1 years

  • If paying $2,805 premium processing fee: 961 days / 31.6 months / 2.6 years

2023 regular processing time: 1,046 days / 34 months / 2.9 years

  • If paying the premium processing fee: 930 days / 31 months / 2.5 years

2016 regular processing time: 705 days / 23 months / 1.9 years

  • If paying the premium processing fee: 567 days / 19 months / 1.6 years

Most employer‐​sponsored immigrants pass through a six‐​part series of bureaucratic steps. Employers must initiate the process, but the employee must participate in each stage.

  1. Prefiling stage: This stage requires the applicant and employer to gather the necessary documents to prove the applicant’s eligibility for a green card. This includes proof of degrees, the employer’s ability to pay, and work experience letters. These letters must contain detailed information about the employee’s job duties and tenure, and there is no particular reason why a past employer would want to provide this information.

  • 2024 Q1 time: The public has effectively no information about how long this stage will take. Attorneys say that it could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

  1. Prevailing wage determination: The Department of Labor (DOL) evaluates the job duties, skill requirements, and location of the job to assign a specific occupational classification, skill level, and area code. Based on these factors, the DOL uses its Online Wage Library to issue a prevailing wage determination. The average wait for the prevailing wage has nearly tripled since 2016.

  • 2024 Q1 time: 186 days / 6.1 months

  • 2023 time: 197 days / 6.5 months

  • 2016 time: 76 days / 2.5 months

  1. US worker recruitment: Under DOL regulations, employers must also recruit US workers through a specified process that involves multiple newspaper advertisements. They must conduct interviews of applicants if their résumés meet the “basic” criteria, even if they do not meet all the criteria. DOL data show that it takes employers on average six months to get through this stage and file a labor certification (see step number four).

  • 2024 Q1 time: 190 days / 6.2 months

  • 2023 time: 153 days / 5 months

  • 2016 time: 131 days / 4.3 months

  1. Labor certification: Employers must then apply for a labor certification from the DOL, which will certify that no “minimally” qualified US worker responded to the job advertisements and that the employer did the required steps.

  • 2024 Q1 time: 375 days / 12.3 months / 1 year

  • 2023 time: 303 days / 10 months 

  • 2016 time: 180 days / 5.9 months

  1. Employer petition: Employers must then file a petition with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS will verify that the worker is qualified for sponsorship and confirm the employer’s ability to pay. This is one of the few procedures where employers can pay to skip the waiting. The regulations allow an employer to pay a $2,500 fee (compared with $700 normally) to receive a response in 15 days (unless the government wants additional information).

2024 Q1 time: 200 days / 6.6 months

  • Fifteen days if the employer can pay a $2,805 premium processing fee

2023 time: 130 days / 4.3 months

  • Fifteen days if the employer can pay a $2,805 premium processing fee

2016 time: 180 days / 5.9 months

  • Fifteen days if the employer can pay a $2,805 premium processing fee

Here is where the employee would wait for a cap number to become available under annual limits.

  1. Green card application: The green card application (Form I‑485) is the request for the employee to adjust status (usually from a temporary work visa status) to legal permanent residence. The worker must undergo a background check and medical screening and confirm that the original job offer still exists.

  • 2024 Q1 time: 195 days / 6.4 months

  • 2023 time: 261 days / 8.6 months

  • 2016 time: 165 days / 5.4 months

This is leading to massive processing backlogs in the employer‐​sponsored immigration system. Again, these processing backlogs are in addition to the backlog of workers waiting for a cap spot to become available. We do not know how many people are going through the recruitment stage, but the total employer‐​sponsored processing backlogs at the DOL and the DHS have more than doubled since 2016.

With a process this long, it is no surprise that well over 90 percent of employer‐​sponsored immigrants going through the labor certification process must already be in the United States to obtain employer sponsorship. These delays create a de facto requirement for employees to use an H‑1B or other temporary work visa before they can access a green card. In other words, the true government processing time is much longer when you factor in the time it takes to obtain a temporary work visa before an employer begins the green card process.

Unfortunately, the DOL has finalized two new rules that, among other problems, will take more resources away from processing prevailing wage and labor certification applications to increase the resources required for the H‑2A farm visa program. This is the exact opposite of what the government should do to alleviate the processing delays in the employer‐​sponsored immigration system.

Indeed, all these procedures are wholly unnecessary. Employees with a green card can negotiate fairly for wages since they can leave to find another employer. There is no reason to require US worker recruitment since immigrant workers create an equivalent demand for US workers elsewhere in the economy. Employers can judge a worker’s qualifications better than a government entity. Requiring health screenings and background checks of workers who were already screened abroad and who have lived in the United States for years is just as absurd.

America will lose the global talent competition when other countries grant green cards in a matter of a few weeks or months, not years. It is time for the US government to radically streamline its immigration system and eliminate unnecessary, burdensome procedures.

This post is an update of a prior post.

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