If you have never heard of a light-green card, don’t blame yourself. It is nonexistent. And that is why we are writing this blog explaining why it should be on the table for the upcoming comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).
The law requires that an immigrant visa number must be available before an I-485 (Adjustment of Status) can be approved. The problem is that visa retrogression is so severe that green card applicants have to wait many years for their turn. For example, during June 2009, Indian professionals holding advanced degrees will have a chance to get their green cards only if they have been waiting for nine (9) years or more.
This is exactly when a light-green card makes sense. If USCIS determines that an I-485 case is approvable, but cannot approve it due to visa retrogression, they can instead issue a “light” green card until the application is adjudicated. It is a temporary green card for an applicant who has met all AOS requirements and is simply waiting for a visa number. To avoid confusion, we don’t use the term “conditional green card,” which is based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen.
The carrier of a light green card is not yet a legal permanent resident, but would enjoy certain benefits of being one. Notably, they don’t have to renew their Employment Authorization Documents (EAD), Advanced Parole (AP) and possibly H-1B any more. Even if light green cards carry a small annual fee, immigrants would still love it because of the peace of mind it brings, and the money savings from the elimination of other applications. They will also have more freedom than what AC21 provides in terms of career development and changing jobs.
A light green card can replace several immigration documents altogether, such as EAD, AP, I-94, Personal ID, etc. It reduces processing workload, saves tons of money, frees up resources, and is a much better tracking document for all government agencies involved.
Employers stand to gain from light green cards as well: they will be able to reduce expenses on sponsoring immigration applications and managing their employees’ legal status.
Even the struggling housing market will benefit from light green cards. An immigrant holding a light green card is more likely to purchase a home than someone who has doubt about the fate of their green card application, especially since the outcome will determine whether they can stay in the U.S. or not.
There may be legislative obstacles in granting certain legal rights to Adjustment of Status (AOS) beneficiaries, but if you think about it, a light green card doesn’t violate any regulations or bypass any laws. Remember a person with a pending AOS application is legally allowed to apply for work authorization, use AP for international travels, maintain H-1B status, change jobs using AC21, and so on. Granting such person a light green card only eliminates the massive amount of paperwork involved.
Someone may argue that lost income for USCIS would worsen existing backlogs. If application fees are collected to process applications, USCIS shouldn’t need that money for cases that are not filed.
So in short, the adoption of light green cards can solve many problems plaguing the current immigration system. If implemented, maybe through administrative reform alone, light green cards will allow:
- to be less concerned about their future, knowing their AOS will be approved as soon as visa numbers become available;
- to save tons of money and efforts in renewing EAD, AP and H-1B;
- to no longer worry about gaps between EADs, and accidental unauthorized employment;
- to plan international travels more easily;
- to accept promotions and change jobs with less regulatory restrictions;
- to be more willing to start a business, invest in real estate, etc.; and
- to save on legal fees;
- to cut cost on sponsoring immigration petitions;
- to be less concerned about maintaining employees’ legal status;
- to gain access to a bigger pool of talent; and
- to eliminate a huge backlog in EAD applications (173,798 pending as of March 2009);
- to have a much better understanding and control of visa number usage;
- to better streamline the entire adjudication process;
- to cut processing and management of EAD/AP/H1B cases considerably;
- to focus customer service on others areas with significantly reduced case status inquiries;
- to earn income from light green card maintenance fees.
Update April 6, 2010:
I submitted the “Light Green Card” idea to the National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review last year and it has received good support so far. Here is a comment left by RN on March 26, 2010:
Excellent idea on reducing legal immigration visa backlog that tackles multifaceted problems. Seems a workable solution within existing broad legal framework that does not require tagging with CIR and streamline USCIS process. With current legal visa backlog(estimate over 20 years for many cases) morale of a visa applicant or a ‘would be’ citizen is undermined. Assimilation with the society becomes increasingly difficult if one has to wait decades at prime working age (age group 25 – 45 years) when most legal immigrants enter US . This situation is further amplified where family members are divided i.e children are citizen by birth and parents are waiting in line for residency and citizenship. Additionally, long backlog prevents career choices, limits earning potential and diminishes large investment decision such as home purchase, starting business etc that adds value to the economy.