How to Eliminate the Visa Waiting Lists Without a Massive Influx of New Aliens

By David North on December 20, 2019

In an earlier posting, I wrote of the need to do something about the nearly five million aliens waiting to receive American green cards, but in a way that will not upend our now 98-year-old tradition of numerically limited migration.

I suggest that the nation create a sophisticated, alien-funded system called the Backlogged Visa Market (BVM) in which various incentives, disincentives, and market mechanisms will shrink the waiting list of some 4.8 million over the next few years while giving every single alien on the current list a potential benefit of some kind, either a green card or, more likely, a cash settlement.

This is a complex problem and demands a complex solution. First, we are dealing with 11 different major queues, five in the family preferences (F-1, -2A, -2B, -3, and -4) and six in the employment preferences (E-1, -2, -3, -3, O ("other"), -4, and -5) as summarized in the table below which was published by the Cato Institute.


These queues vary from the tiny waiting list for EB-3 O of 1,358 (an odd category of other unskilled workers that has not caught the attention of the world's would-be migrants) to the massive F-4 category, the siblings, siblings-in laws, nieces, and nephews of adult U.S. citizens — there were 2,373,433 of them in 2018. These queues are of varying length, from a few months to multiple decades.

Within the 11 major waiting lists are some 22 sub-queues relating to the long-established limit that no more than 7 percent of any migrant stream may be filled by natives of any single nation. China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines are prominent here, with single listings for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Vietnam.

In addition to the major queues and the nation-of-origin sub-queues, there is the variable of time; some people are days from getting their green cards, others are in line for 60 or more years. (The more-migration advocates routinely publish "projected years to process" showing some of these backlogs to as much as 102 years, which is based on the unstated — and ridiculous — assumption that no one on a waiting list ever dies, and that in the year 2120 we will be welcoming some people who have lived to the age of 200 or so.)

The Proposal. The suggestion is that aliens who are on one of these queues, or sub-queues, would be able to buy out the migration places of two or more people in the same queue in order to advance their own visa dates. In this way, every such transaction would take two names off the list

There would also be an auction for the first 1 to 5 percent of the annual places in each of the categories; this would not be a direct money auction, it would give an instant visa to the applicants who have bought up the visa rights of the most people within the queues or sub-queues in question. Again, this would be the replacement of several people on the waiting list by a single person.

Further, to stay in the waiting list at all, an annual fee of $50 or $100 would be required. This provision would, at least initially, sharply reduce the waiting lists as the (often aging) applicants would realize that the annual fee no longer made the process attractive, and as no one would pay the fees for the unknown number of dead people on these lists.

Each waiting applicant would thus have these opportunities:

  • To secure a visa after a long wait;
  • To bid in the auction for an instant visa;
  • To buy their way higher up the waiting list;
  • To stay in place on the list by paying the annual fee;
  • To sell their place in line, and no longer be an applicant; or
  • To abandon their place in line, but no longer have to pay a fee.

The last alternative would presumably happen only to the least informed of the applicants.

All this activity would reduce the size of the waiting lists, perhaps sharply.

The rate of reduction would be enhanced, further, were the government to do something it should have done decades ago: Decide not to issue visas when there is a waiting list. Ideally it would simply stop issuing new visas completely till the queues cleared in the various categories. Such a reduction in the issuance of new visas would not slow total immigration from its 1.1 million or so a year current level, as there are, and will be, plenty of people in line.

Another possibility is that the government could only issue half the visas in each annual category until the backlogs are cleared.

A New Mechanism. To make all this to work, there would need to be a supervised, visa-buyer-funded electronic marketing system, the Backlogged Visa Market. This would operate along the same lines as the financial futures market in puts and calls, which deals with people wanting to obtain the right to buy and sell, at a determined price, stocks at various times in the future. This would be a more complex system, admittedly, than the diversity lottery, which also deals with visa applications through the internet.

Several kinds of fraud are to be avoided. In one, the buyer would seek to obtain the visa or visas at rock-bottom prices from unknowing holders of backlogged visas; in another, the buyer might try to buy the backlogged visas with checks that bounce; in a third, the seller of the visas might try to sell something that no longer exists, such as a backlogged visa for someone who is dead.

To avoid the first two problems, there would be a floor under all visa transactions, say something like $250, and visa transactions would only be completed when the buyer's checks have cleared and have been deposited by the seller. To avoid the third, there would have to be some check made by persons in the American embassies and consulates around the world, with perhaps branch offices established for this purpose in heavy-traffic nations such as India, China, and Mexico.

Transaction fees would be set, to be paid by the buyers, for all transactions, including the confirmation of the legitimacy of the visa to be sold. The annual payments to keep one's place in line would be split between the Departments of State and Homeland Security, with a portion of these funds being used to support the BVM.

Yes, this would be a complex process, but its expense and complexity would serve to reduce the multi-million waiting lists, while giving everyone in those lists the opportunities noted above.

And while expensive to some of the newly arrived immigrants, the BVM mechanism would preserve the current ceilings at no expense to the general public. A by-product of this policy would be that we, as a nation, would be getting somewhat younger and somewhat more prosperous cohorts of immigrants until such time as the waiting lists are exhausted.

Although complex, the BVM approach would be preferable to the Cato Institute's "let 'em all in after five years" formula.