Today, thousands of foreign nationals who have been waiting for years to apply for green cards will finally be able to do so. However, a last-minute policy change by the Department of State last week rendered a large portion of these immigrants ineligible to apply—pulling the rug out from under them and forcing them to wait even longer before they can take the final steps towards becoming a permanent resident.
We all know our immigration system is broken. It is so backwards that hard-working, high-skilled foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on temporary visas have to file a petition just so they can hold their place in line to later submit another application for permanent residence. Sound complicated? It is. If you want to see for yourself, you can read the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s process for “adjustment of status” here (but unless your idea of fun is a trip to the DMV, you should probably skip it).
This insane bureaucracy is partly a result of the outdated Immigration Act, which placed limits on the number of visas and green cards that can be issued each year. The law was passed in 1990, long before anyone could have predicted the technological boom of the last 25 years or the resulting need for high-skilled employees. Today, demand far exceeds supply for both temporary visas and green cards. This has led to huge backlogs that force millions of immigrants, many of whom are already living and working in the U.S., to wait in line for years for a green card (in some cases, upwards of 20 years). During this wait time it is difficult, if not impossible, to switch jobs, start your own company, or even go back to school.
Since the number of available green cards is limited, each month the Department of State publishes a bulletin that outlines who can apply for one. Eligibility is determined by the date on which an immigrant filed their initial petition—basically, if you filed before the date listed in the bulletin, your time on the wait list is up and you can finally submit your green card application.
Last Friday, the Department of State published a revised visa bulletin for October that pushed up the eligibility cutoff dates—in some cases by more than two years. In other words, thousands of foreign nationals who thought they would be eligible to apply for green cards on October 1st found out just five days before the filing deadline that they will have to continue to wait.
This back-track by the Department of State is hugely frustrating for these individuals and their sponsoring employers, and is yet another indication of how our broken immigration system is plaguing the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Outdated, unreasonable limits on green card availability exacerbate the national talent shortage and threaten innovation and startup growth.
Legislators can fix this, and in fact, some have tried. Congress had the chance in 2013 when the Senate passed a comprehensive bipartisan reform bill, but efforts were stalled by partisan bickering and bogged down in election-year politics. However, there may be an opportunity to revive immigration reform through a somewhat unexpected channel—Speaker Boehner’s departure from House Leadership.
As the New York Times Editorial Board wrote last week, Mr. Boehner’s surprising retirement means he’s no longer beholden to the internal party politics that stymied any attempts to work on large-scale immigration reform legislation. While the prospects for sensible immigration reform remain a long shot as the 2016 election approaches, those of us that care about fixing our broken immigration system should seize any opportunity to push for legislators to take up the issue. Until Congress passes meaningful reform, talent-starved startups will continue to suffer while the brightest and best foreign nationals have their hopes of permanent residence dashed and delayed by a broken system.