With all of the discussion about wait lists for green card cases, we thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the numbers involved, to get a real sense of the problem.*

Worldwide Green Card Limit

Each year, a total of 140,000 green cards are be issued based on employment related cases. This 140,000 total covers all levels of employment cases, from jobs which require high levels of education and skill, to low skill-jobs. The 140,000 number also includes cards issued to family members such as wives and unmarried children under 21 as dependents of the individuals who have the jobs that qualify them for the green card.

Per Country Green Card Limit

In addition to the the 140,000 world-wide limit, each individual country is limited to a maximum of 7% of the 140,000 employment based green cards issued each year. If more people apply for green cards than the number of green cards available for a country, a waiting list is established. That waiting list grows cumulatively from year to year. For example, if 3,000 people from a country applied for but did not receive green cards in in 2010, and another 3,000 from the same country applied for but did not receive green cards in 2011, the waiting list at the beginning of 2012 would have 6,000 people added to it for those two years.

Specific Waiting List Numbers As of January 1, 2012

Periodically, the Department of State issues a report regarding the number of people waiting for green cards in the employment based categories. These numbers are interesting, and to a point, mildly shocking. The latest numbers are reported as of January 1, 2012.

Employment Second Preference (Job Requires at Least Masters Degree)

People Waiting in Line as of January 1, 2012:

China: 150

India: 42,400

All Other Countries: 150

Employment Third Preference (Skilled Workers, Including Jobs Which Require a Bachelors Degree)

People Waiting in Line as of January 1, 2012:

China: 625

India: 44,500

Mexico: 550

Philippines: 6,700

All Other Countries: 5,100

Dependent Family Members Decrease the Number of Workers Who Enter

The above numbers don’t truly describe the size of the wait list for the following reason: the only people who are counted in the wait list are the actual employees themselves. Their family members are not counted for the purpose of figuring out how many people are waiting. Which means that even though the the list for Second Preference India had 42,400 people on it, that really does not reflect the number of people on the wait list who will be issued a green card. There are actually far more people in line. Assuming each of the members on the list have one or two dependent family members, the number is far, far larger than 42,400.


For many people, the above numbers are shocking. In January 1, 2012, India alone had nearly 87,000 people in line, just for the Second and Third employment based preference categories. Add all the dependent family members and suddenly you have a huge number of people in line for a country that is only allotted 7% of the 140,000 employment based green cards issued each year. Only after reviewing these numbers does one begin to get a real sense of the wait facing people from India, China, and the Philippines.

*The goal of this post is to provide a general overview of the process. It is not intended to address every possible exception to the rules which govern the issuance of green cards. Several situations are not addressed because they do not significantly affect the overall numbers. In addition, some of the cases are duplicates because the individual has taken another job and a new petition has been filed on their behalf. These numbers also do not include applicants who have already filed for adjustment of status. Some applicants abandon their cases. Others upgrade their cases. For these reasons, the numbers identified in this post do not perfectly reflect the number of cases waiting to be processed. They do, however, offer an insight into the staggering size of the problem.