Children of immigrants in green card backlogs face uncertain futures in the U.S.

“Aging out” of immigration status can threaten some children with the risk of deportation or family separation. Congress should act to keep families together by reforming per-country caps and providing these children a clear path to permanent residency and citizenship.
"If children of immigrants turn 21 before receiving a green card, they are no longer considered “children” for immigration purposes."
8 USC 1101(a)(B)(1)

The U.S. immigration system prioritizes family unity, but the lengthy green card process poses challenges

Keeping families together has long been a foundational principle in America’s immigration system. Many employment-based temporary visa programs, such as the H-1B highly-skilled temporary worker visa and the E-2 investor visa, allow immigrants to bring dependent children and spouses with them.

Allowing visa holders to bring dependents with them invites families to build a life in America and to put down roots together. Their children often grow up in the United States, going to school, playing sports, worshiping, and participating alongside U.S.-citizen kids in communities across the country. Many rightly see America as their home, and are ready to build their futures here.

Unfortunately, many of these young people are seeing their futures thrown into disarray before they can begin. That’s because their status as dependents also have limitations, particularly if families decide that they want to make their move to America permanent by applying for permanent residence (a “green card”).

If children of immigrants turn 21 before receiving a green card, they are no longer considered “children” for immigration purposes, and they must secure a different immigration status to remain in the United States lawfully. If they cannot do so, they have to depart the country or risk becoming undocumented, exposing them to deportation and jeopardizing their future immigration options—and upending the lives they have built here.

"There are some 275,000 immigrant children whose parents hold temporary visas or who are in the employment-based green card backlog."

Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of aging out and losing their immigration status

According to estimates, there are some 275,000 immigrant children whose parents hold temporary visas (like H-1B visas), or who are in the employment-based green card backlog. These children entered the U.S. at an average age of 6 years old and they live across the country, though more than half live in just four states: California, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey. Additionally, at least 20,000 young adults aged 18 to 20 years old are especially at risk of aging out of their current immigration status in the next few years.1

For many individuals living in the U.S. on employment-based visas, adjusting to permanent status from a temporary work visa and securing a green card can take decades because of extensive green card backlogs—even if they meet all the criteria to receive one. These backlogs are caused by low annual limits on how many green cards can be issued and per-country caps that further restrict green card issuance by country of origin.

More than 960,000 immigrants and family members are stuck in the employment-based green card backlogs, waiting many years for their turn to apply. If dependent children are stuck too long in the backlogs, or are otherwise unable to secure their own permanent immigration status, they risk aging out and losing their legal status2.

The threat of children aging out forces difficult challenges and impossible choices on immigrant families. If children stay without legal status, they risk deportation and permanently losing their ability to live permanently in the U.S. in the future. If they leave the U.S., their families will either be separated or forced to uproot, upending their lives, abandoning the years they’ve invested to try to live here, and taking their skills and talents with them elsewhere. This is yet another obstacle in a failed system that is incentivizing highly-skilled workers and U.S. businesses beginning to look to other countries for a better option.

"The America's Children Act would provide a pathway to permanent residency for children of immigrants in green card backlogs."

Congress must act to protect children from aging out of status

To protect and support families navigating the employment-based immigration process, Congress should pass legislation to modernize the system and eliminate the decades-long backlogs that create barriers and difficulties for hundreds of thousands of families. This could include reforming the per country caps, recapturing previously unused green cards and increasing the number of green cards issued annually.

But Congress can also act to protect families at risk now. The bipartisan America’s Children Act was recently re-introduced. This bill would provide a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for children of immigrants on employment-based visas who have lived in the U.S. for at least ten years, and have graduated from an institution of higher education. The bill would also ensure children retain their status as “children” throughout the immigration process.

The legislation is led by Representatives Deborah Ross (D-NC) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3442), where it was introduced with 20 original bipartisan cosponsors (10 Democrat and 10 Republican), and by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Senate (S. 1667), with 7 original cosponsors (2 Democrats, 3 Republicans, 2 Independents).

Until Congress acts to eliminate the country caps and clear the backlogs, allowing families to secure work authorization, be protected from deportation, and be able to secure their status would be hugely helpful. The Biden Administration should take any steps available to ensure that families are able to stay together and build their futures in the U.S. while waiting for the immigration process to complete.

Get in touch with us:

Andrew Moriarty

Deputy Director of Federal Policy


  1. These estimates are based on’ immigrant assignment methodology for the 2022 American Community Survey with added administrative data to make the estimates representative of September 30, 2023.
  2. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) was passed in 2002 to address age-out problems; the law aims to preserve dependent children’s status as children for the purposes of immigration, even if they “age out” of the classification in the time it takes to process their applications. Unfortunately, CSPA offers no help for individuals on visas with no pathway to permanent status, like E-2 dependent children. Neither does CSPA help H-4 dependent children whose parents are waiting in backlogs, because they are not allowed to formally begin the process that would “lock” their age in place until a green card is available for them.
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