Short-sightedness in policy-making threatens to uproot millions of immigrants and international folk who make up the fabric of American society. With unemployment now affecting 17.8 million people, there is also the additional danger of turning away hoards of foreign-born workers, many of whom have only known life in this country.

A cocktail of policies has confused applicants further, in their effort to address the almost 30 year old problem of the green card.

The United States issues about one million green cards a year. 140,000 of these are employment based. This is also the country’s quota, which makes up 7% of applications. Holding a green card is the final legal step before a person can become a citizen of the country issuing it. It grants lawful permanent residence. So it’s highly sought after by foreign-born workers, the leading two nationalities being Indian and Chinese.

At least two steps have to be taken to get the green card. First, the immigrant must be the beneficiary of a petition that is usually filed by their employer, claiming that they are eligible for the green card. This step is now tougher than before due to the hiring freeze and corporate budget cuts, both of which are pandemic-induced. Secondly, the person can apply for the green card once the petition is approved. But this approval can only happen if the green card cap has not been reached yet. The legal limit is set by Congress. The CATO Institute masterfully breaks down the numbers.

This is where complications arise because the United States is dealing with an immense backlog problem that has no end in sight. Applications have been accumulating since the 1990s when the tech boom drove numerous Indians to the country. People became aware of the gravity of the situation with the passing and blocking of the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, which aimed to provide relief to Indians by eliminating the country quotas for green cards. But its critics argued that because this policy did not increase the number of green cards in the quota, the backlog would worsen. According to The Washington Post, “wait times for all nationalities will extend to 17 years, and a trickle-down effect will make it difficult for working professionals from anywhere other than India to come to the United States.” The average wait time is now expected to be 50 years.

While 75% of applicants for employment-based green cards are Indian, the rest are Chinese. Mexicans and Filipinos rule the roost for family-based green cards. It is important to note that such additional green cards for dependents are counted in the cap. Moreover, children will age out of their green cards once they turn 21 and might be subject to deportation unless they immediately find employment. To account for these problems, Richard Durbin (D-IL) who blocked the previously mentioned act, attempted to pass a bill of his own called the Relief Act. It would eliminate country quotas and raise the number of green cards available to spouses and children.

But no one can see eye to eye, and such bills are still in works-in-progress. Meanwhile, wait times are proving to be detrimental. In cases where the beneficiaries-in-waiting die, their families lose their spot in line and may be deported. Immigrants and international employees are caught in multiple revolving doors.

“What does that ultimately mean? Valuable, skilled people decide they should leave because they’re never going to get what they had hoped for,” lobbyist and immigration attorney Bruce Morrison told the Post. “And valuable people don’t come because they figure our system is so broken they can’t see their way through it. Therefore, other countries bidding for these skilled workers get those workers. Companies in America move jobs abroad to employ those skills elsewhere. And American prosperity suffers.”

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