Employer-sponsored green card processing delays exceed 3-year threshold

In this 2007 file photo, skilled immigrants, including doctors and engineers, gather on Washington’s Capitol Hill to protest long delays in obtaining green cards. (Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu)

Immigrant workers seeking a green card – which denotes lawful permanent residence in the United States – must now wait more than three years to navigate the government’s regulatory quagmire. Paying a $2,500 fee could reduce that wait to “only” 2 years and 5 months. The government has added nearly 16 months to the average green card process since 2016, with more than a year added in 2021 and 2022 alone. These processing times are added to the time wait for a green card cap location become available within annual limits (which may be for several years). They also do not include time spent complying with regulations prior to the first stage of filing. This pre-filing period can take months.

Total green card processing time

    • Normal processing time 2022: 1,171 days, 39 months, 3.2 years
      • If you pay the premium processing fee of $2,500: 862 days, 29 months, 2.4 years
    • Normal processing time 2016: 705 days, 23 months, 1.9 years
      • If you pay the premium processing fee of $2,500: 567 days, 19 months, 1.6 years


Most employer-sponsored immigrants go through a six-part series of bureaucratic steps. The employer must initiate the process, but the employee must participate in every step.

  1. Pre-filing stage: This step requires the applicant and the employer to gather the necessary documents to prove their eligibility for a green card. This includes proof of educational credentials, employer’s ability to pay, and letters of work experience. These letters must contain detailed information about the employee’s duties and seniority, and there is no particular reason for a former employer to want to provide this information.
    • Time 2022: The public actually has no information on the duration of this stage.. Lawyers say it could take anywhere from weeks to months.
  2. Determination of prevailing wages: The Department of Labor assesses job duties, skill requirements, and the workplace to assign a specific occupational classification, skill level, and area code. Based on these factors, DOL uses its Online Salary Library to issue an effective salary determination. The average expectation for the prevailing salary has almost tripled since 2016.
    • Time 2022: 182 days6 months
    • 2016 Duration: 76 days, 2.5 months
  1. Recruitment of American workers: Under DOL regulations, employers must also recruit American workers through a specified process that involves multiple newspaper advertisements. They must conduct interviews with candidates if their resumes meet the “basic” criteria, even if they do not meet all the criteria.
    • Time 2022: 149 days5 months (from the determination of the salary in force)
    • 2016 Time: 131 days, 4 months
  1. Work certificate: Employers must then apply for certification of employment from the DOL, which will certify that no “minimally” qualified American workers have responded to job offers and that the employer has completed the required procedures.
    • Time 2022: 213 days7 months
    • 2016 Time: 180 days, 6 months
  1. Employer Petition: Employers must then file a petition with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS will verify that the worker is qualified for sponsorship and will confirm the employer’s ability to pay. This is one of the few procedures where employers can pay to avoid the wait. The regulations allow an employer to pay a fee of $2,500 (compared to the normal $700) to receive a response within 15 days (unless the government wants additional information).
    • Time 2022: 324 days11 months
      • 15 days, if eligible and able to pay premium processing fee of $2,500
    • 2016 Time: 180 days, 6 months
      • 15 days, if eligible and able to pay premium processing fee of $2,500

This is where the employee would wait for a cap number to become available within the annual limits.

  1. Green card application: The Green Card Application (Form I‑485) is the request for the employee to adjust their status (usually from temporary work visa status) to lawful permanent residence. The worker must undergo a background check, medical examination and confirm that the original job offer still exists.
    • Time 2022: 303 days10 months
    • 2016 Duration: 165 days, 5.5 months

The process causes massive processing delays in the employer-sponsored immigration system. Again, these backlogs add to the backlog of workers waiting for a cap slot to become available. We don’t know how many people go through the recruitment phase, but the total number of employer-sponsored backlogs at the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security has more than doubled since 2016.

With such a lengthy process, it’s no surprise that over 90% of immigrants must already be in the United States to obtain employer sponsorship. These delays create a de facto requirement for employees to use an H‑1B visa or other temporary work visa before they can access a green card. In other words, the real government processing time is much longer when you factor in the time it takes to get a temporary work visa before an employer begins the green card process.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Labor is preparing to finalize a rule very soon that, among other problems, will divert more resources from processing routine salary claims. It is also plans to go out another rule that directly complicate salary determinations in effect for green cards and H‑1B visas. This is the exact opposite of what the government should be doing to alleviate processing times in the employer-sponsored immigration system.

Indeed, all these procedures are completely useless. Employees with a green card can negotiate wages fairly since they can leave to find another employer. There is no reason to require the recruitment of American workers since immigrant workers create an equivalent demand for American workers elsewhere in the economy. Employers can judge a worker’s qualifications better than a government entity. Requiring health screenings and background checks from workers who have already been screened overseas and have now lived in the United States for years is simply absurd.

America will lose the global competition for talent when other countries grant green cards in weeks or months, not years. It’s time for the US government to radically streamline its immigration system and eliminate unnecessary and cumbersome procedures.

(This article first appeared on Cato.org on July 7, 2022)