Green card applications down nearly 80 percent

Green card applications have fallen substantially over the past years, according to a study by the Associated Press. Employers have sponsored less than half the number of employees in 2008 and 2009 than in 2007 and earlier. High unemployment and broader recessionary factors have triggered the decline in permanent resident applications.

In fiscal year 2007, employers submitted nearly 235,000 green card applications. By 2008, applications fell to around 104,000. For the first eight months of this year, fewer than 36,000 employer-sponsored applications have been filed. If current application rates persist through the rest of 2009, volume will have fallen close to 80 percent from the 2007 peak.

Projection is based on the assumption that current application rates for 2009 will continue through the end of the year and is strictly for the purpose of illustration.

In 2007, the last year for which data is available, most applications came from India, Mexico, the Philippines, China and Korea, according to Department of Labor data.

Applications are down in part because there are fewer jobs in the market right now and those that are open involve more competition from American applicants than in the past. An unemployment rate that's approaching 10 percent has made it less desirable to hire employees needing green card sponsorship. Keep in mind that hiring and sponsoring an employee entails extra legal costs not present with hiring a U.S. citizen.

To hire a non-U.S. citizen and sponsor a green card, an employer in the United States has several hurdles. It needs to prove that it couldn't find a domestic candidate with the minimum requirements for the position, that it is financially healthy and that it will pay the prevailing rate of pay for the position (relative to the market). And, the green-card candidate must have specialized or unusual skills that make the position impossible to fill through the U.S. labor pool.

The popular misconception that non-U.S. employees are coming into the country and undercutting highly paid Americans is thus not true, as employers can't shop around in cheaper labor markets.

With fewer green card applications being submitted, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is having an easier time handling its workload. In the past, it could take 15 months or longer for an application to be completed. Now, the department has the process down to five months, which is still a month off from its four-month objective. A larger staff and a decline in applications of almost 80 percent from the 2007 peak were exactly what the department needed to put its target within reach.

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