In response to somewhat recent arguments in favor of lifting the per-country caps on immigrant admissions, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) conducted study of approved pending employment-based immigrant petitions to explore lifting the caps as a policy option. Unfortunately, the results of the study were not very conclusive as to the effect the caps have on backlogs and visa availability, but the study nonetheless yielded some interesting statistical information.
On top of the numerical limitations placed on employment-based (and family-based) visas, the Immigration & Nationality Act provides that immigrants from a single country in a given year cannot comprise more than 7% of the number of visas available worldwide. These “per-country caps” have resulted in enormous backlogs for immigrants, especially for those from the countries with the highest rates of immigration, such as India, the Philippines, China, and Mexico.

The CRS study analyzed approved employment-based cases pending with the Department of State National Visa Center(NVC) as well as those pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS). The study found that the overwhelming number of approved visas pending at the NVC at the end of fiscal year 2010 were those of professional and skilled workers—102,395. Alternatively, USCIS revealed that most of the approved adjustment of status petitions awaiting visas are for professional, skilled, and unskilled workers–114,442. The CRS was unable to determine how much overlap exists between the data compiled from the two agencies, however it presumed that substantial duplication exists. This is largely what accounted for CRS’s inability to accurately estimate the effect the per-country limits have on the number of pending cases.

Despite the study’s inconclusiveness, the CRS suspects that if the caps were lifted, thus shortening delays, more people would seek employment-based visas, and employers and prospective foreign workers would be more likely to file petitions. As a result, the reduction in the number of approved cases pending if the caps were lifted might be short-lived. Additionally, the CRS states that if the per-country limits were eliminated for employment-based immigrants without any other changes to permanent legal immigration, it would likely have a ripple effect on family-based immigration as well as other potential employment-based immigrants.