How many highly skilled foreign-born are waiting in line for U.S. legal permanent residence?

Guillermina Jasso, Vivek Wadhwa, Gary Gereffi, Ben Rissing, Richard Freeman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    While the United States welcomes foreign-born students and trainees and, less warmly, temporary workers such as H-1B visa holders, it places an array of requirements, obstacles, and delays upon persons who would like to make the U.S. their permanent home. The number of people in the queue for legal permanent residence (LPR) is, however, difficult to ascertain. This paper estimates the number of highly skilled foreign-born persons waiting for LPR via the three main employment-based categories, separately by whether they are living in the United States or abroad, as well as the number of family members. We find that as of the end of FY 2006 there were about half a million employment-based principals awaiting LPR in the United States, together with over half a million family members, plus over 125 thousand principals and family members waiting abroad. These numbers dwarf the visas available annually - 120,120 plus any not used in the family preferences - suggesting that the long delays in gaining legal permanent residence are a visa number problem, not an administrative processing problem, as many believe. The backlog thus cannot be eliminated without a large change in public policy. The delay in gaining legal permanent residence could contribute to the decision of many highly skilled foreign-born to leave the United States.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)477-498
    Number of pages22
    JournalInternational Migration Review
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 2010

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Demography
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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