Enhancing Equity in Employment-Based Immigration: A Closer Look at Family Reunification in the U.S.

The United States immigration system places a strong emphasis on family reunification, even within the employment-based (EB) green card categories. In comparison to other OECD countries, such as Japan, Spain, and Ireland, the U.S. stands out with a higher proportion of immigrants entering on visa categories as workers rather than family members. However, a unique aspect of the U.S. system is the absence of a distinct green card category for the spouses and children of workers, resulting in a shared pool of green cards with skilled workers. This article explores the current dynamics and proposes considerations for a more balanced approach without compromising family-based immigration.

Current Scenario:
In 2022, family members of immigrant workers accounted for 55 percent of the allocated EB green cards, with the remaining 45 percent designated for the workers themselves. This distribution pattern has been consistent in 2020 and 2021 as well. It’s worth noting that some family members who receive EB green cards are also skilled workers, highlighting the intertwined nature of these categories.

Challenges and Disparities:
One notable challenge is the capped limit of 140,000 EB green cards per year set by Congress. Surprisingly, the federal government issued 270,284 green cards in 2022, surpassing the designated cap. This flexibility was possible because immigration law allows unused green cards from other categories to be reallocated to EB applicants. In 2022, unused family-based green cards from the previous year were repurposed to adjust the statuses of EB green card applicants already present in the U.S. on different visas. This process is set to reallocate nearly 60,000 additional green cards from family-based to EB categories in 2023.

Recommendations for Reform:
To achieve a more equitable distribution and address the disparities in the immigration system, a comprehensive reform is warranted. It is essential to consider the following points:

Introduction of a Specific Category for Family Members:
Advocate for the creation of a dedicated green card category for the spouses and children of immigrant workers, ensuring a fair allocation without compromising family-based immigration.

Review and Adjust Annual Caps:
Reevaluate and potentially adjust the annual caps on EB green cards to align with the growing demand for skilled workers and the accompanying family members.

Enhanced Transparency and Communication:
Foster clearer communication between policymakers, immigration agencies, and stakeholders to ensure a transparent and collaborative approach to immigration policy changes.

While the U.S. immigration system prioritizes family reunification, the current overlap with employment-based categories necessitates thoughtful reforms. By addressing the unique challenges and disparities, the nation can achieve a more balanced and equitable distribution of green cards, fostering a system that accommodates both skilled workers and their family members without compromising the essence of family-based immigration.