Chris Chmielenski's picture


  by  Chris Chmielenski

Yes, Pres. Biden's recently introduced immigration bill -- the U.S. Citizenship Act -- would grant amnesty to more than 11 million illegal aliens. And yes, it would result in more than 37 million green cards issued over the first 10 years, if passed.

But while the White House focuses its attention on keeping "families together" and allowing illegal aliens to "more fully contribute to our country", the bill includes a massive expansion to the existing employment-based immigration system, allowing employers to import cheap foreign workers to fill new jobs.

At quick glance, the bill would have three major impacts on the employment-based green card categories. First, it would increase the overall annual cap from 140,000 to 170,000. Second, it would create a 5-year pilot program that would provide up to 10,000 green cards per year for regional economic development. Third, it would create an unlimited number of green cards for foreign students who earn a PhD in a STEM field in the United States.

But after a closer look, there's another impact that has even a bigger impact on the numbers. Under current law, spouses and minor children of employment-based immigrants are counted against the annual cap. But the Biden bill exempts them as you'll se below.


Each year, the federal government issues 140,000 green cards. 120,000 are distributed equally across three employment-based preferences, with the others reserved for special immigrants and foreign investors. The third employment-based preference is reserved for "skilled workers", but 10,000 of those 40,000 green cards are reserved for "unskilled workers".

The entirety of the 30,000 additional green cards provided in the Biden bill would go to unskilled workers under the third preference.

The current cap of 140,000 green cards, however, only tells part of the story. Each alien who receives an employment-based green card is allowed to sponsor their spouse and minor children, and those green cards count against the employment-based cap.

After a deep dive into the numbers, our Capitol Hill team determined that the following percentages of green cards in each employment-based preference went to spouses and minor children:

  • 1st preference -- 58.8%
  • 2nd preference -- 50.8%
  • 3rd preference -- 53.4%
  • 4th preference -- 28%
  • 5th preference -- 64.5%

On average, 65,550 green cards went to primary workers, while the other 74,450 green cards went to their family members.

While all 140,000 green card recipients receive lifetime work permits, allowing them to hold any job in the United States, the total number of green cards issued in the employment-based category could not exceed 140,000.


One of the most significant changes the Biden bill would make to our existing green card system is to exempt spouses and minor children of employment-based green card recipients from the cap.

Since the primary immigrant has accounted for only a fraction of the total employment-based green cards over the last 10 years -- 65,650 -- the Biden bill would increase the number of green cards that go to primary immigrants, not by 30,000, but by 104,350 (170,000 - 65,650).

That's nearly 105,000 additional foreign workers that employers would be able to sponsor each year.

Moreover, assuming employment-based green card recipients sponsor their spouses and minor children at the same rate, 200,678 family members would also receive green cards with lifetime work permits.

The net increase of primary workers under the existing employment-based green card categories as a result of the Biden bill would be:



The Biden bill also includes a provision that would issue green cards to all foreign students who earn a PhD in a STEM field from a U.S. university or college. In the most recent 10 years where data is available, approximately 11,000 foreign students have received a PhD in a STEM field from a U.S. school.

But make no mistake, this is a huge incentive, and the number of foreign students receiving these degrees would surely increase once word spreads that the degree comes with a green card stapled to the diploma.

Put it all together, the Biden bill would increase employment-based immigration to:

  • 370,678 -- employment-based + spouses and minor children
  • 10,000 -- 5-year pilot for regional economic development
  • 11,874 -- Foreign students earning PhD in STEM

An annual increase from 140,000 each year to 392,552.

CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is Deputy Director of NumbersUSA

Updated: Wed, Mar 17th 2021 @ 4:10pm EDT

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