Schedule A Updates Are Needed
to Expedite Hiring in Critical Industries

This existing policy can shorten the immigration sponsorship process by more than a year for occupations facing persistent labor challenges, including scientists and doctors.
Closeup front view of male and female early 30's engineers at a factory plant standing next to a control panel of the production machine. the woman is explaining the inexperienced worker how to operate it.
Closeup front view of male and female early 30's engineers at a factory plant standing next to a control panel of the production machine. the woman is explaining the inexperienced worker how to operate it.

‘Schedule A’ is a policy mechanism that allows U.S. employers to expedite the immigration process for qualified foreign-born workers in industries and occupations where there are not enough U.S. born workers available. Unfortunately, the list of Schedule A eligible occupations has not been updated in more than 30 years. The Biden administration should resume regular updates to Schedule A so that qualified immigrants can more quickly get to work, particularly in critical and emerging industries. has been examining opportunities for the administration to more fully utilize existing immigration pathways for workers with needed skills, to strengthen the U.S.’ global competitiveness and tamper economic challenges like inflation and persistent labor gaps.

One solution: Update the list of 'Schedule A' occupations. Updating Schedule A could help expedite the immigration process for highly skilled workers in critical occupations, provide certainty and predictability for top global talent considering working in the U.S., and save millions of dollars annually for U.S. taxpayers along the way.

Updating Schedule A could help expedite immigration processes, provide certainty and predictability, and save millions of taxpayer dollars annually.

An existing but outdated government tool for responding to and supporting hiring needs

‘Schedule A’ refers to a list of occupations for which the Department of Labor (DOL) has determined there are not enough U.S.-born workers available, allowing employers to use an expedited immigration process when hiring foreign-born workers for those roles. In most situations, U.S. employers are required to complete a lengthy and expensive permanent labor certification process (PERM), demonstrating that there are not enough qualified U.S. workers available for that specific job, before they can sponsor a foreign-born employee for an employment-based green card. This is true even with regard to skill sets, credentials, and job duties for which both employers and government already know there are insufficient numbers of U.S. workers readily available.

Occupational fields on the Schedule A list, however, have already been pre-certified by DOL as facing a scarcity of available U.S.-born workers, and therefore employers are not required to complete the PERM process. Bypassing the redundant certifications cuts costs and allows foreign-born workers to step into open jobs with more certainty about their immigration process, and in some situations an earlier start date for their employment. Based on current processing times, access to Schedule A could allow some qualified workers to start working more than a year sooner than if they were required to go through the full labor certification process (though they could still face delays in getting their green cards because of overall numerical and country-specific annual limits).

Source: Screenshot of taken on 1/11/2024.

Currently, the Schedule A list includes only two occupations—nurses and physical therapists—and a general category for “immigrants of exceptional ability in the sciences and arts,” like university professors. Historically, the list of occupations on the Schedule A list was much more expansive, including physicians, engineers, and scientists, and was updated regularly. However, the Department of Labor removed almost all other occupations from the Schedule A list in the early 1990s, and has not changed since.

If these STEM occupations had been included on Schedule A, this could have saved nearly $6.2 million on average annually in taxpayer dollars.

Millions of dollars in potential taxpayer savings

DOL should resume regular updates to Schedule A. The updated Schedule A list should include occupations that rely on specialized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills in industries like artificial intelligence, semiconductor manufacturing, and climate technology, where time is of the essence and where more STEM workers are needed to close looming labor gaps.

By reducing the PERM workload for DOL, this expedited process would save taxpayer dollars as well. According to analysis, an annual average of about 70,000 PERM applications were filed for workers in occupations that we classified as STEM over the last three years. If these STEM occupations had been included on Schedule A, this would have saved nearly $6.2 million on average annually to process the applications.1

Similarly, expanding the list to include healthcare professionals beyond nurses and physical therapists would help address the pressing shortages of doctors and physicians that are forcing hospitals to close and leaving elderly and medically fragile people with no support, particularly in rural communities. Including healthcare practitioners and support occupations in Schedule A would have saved hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in taxpayer money each year and would have expedited processing for more than 13,500 healthcare workers.

Certainty and predictability for highly skilled workers and U.S. employers

Employment-based immigration processes take years to complete, cost thousands of dollars, and require significant legal guidance to navigate. Because Congress has not updated the employment-based immigration system in more than thirty years, there are not enough available visas each year to match demand, the qualifications do not align with currently needed skill sets and hiring practices, and agencies are bogged down by processing backlogs. Applications are often delayed or denied simply because of minor filing errors or inconsistent adjudication practices.

As a result, even if they meet all the statutory requirements, many immigrants and sponsoring employers face daunting uncertainty about when—and even if—their applications might be approved. This can seriously limit U.S. companies’ ability to grow, and can dampen immigrants’ willingness to take these jobs, knowing they will have to navigate that system.

Allowing an alternative to PERM through Schedule A would reduce the chances for delays or denials, offering more certainty for individuals considering the years-long immigration process. This is particularly important at a time when other countries are aggressively recruiting highly skilled workers by advertising expansive and fast-tracked immigration pathways. Improving predictability in these processes would strengthen American competitiveness in the global race for talent.

DOL should continue advancing the regulatory process to implement Schedule A updates as quickly as possible.

Bipartisan and industry support for updating Schedule A

Senators Hickenlooper (D-CO), Cramer (R-ND), Manchin (D-WV) and Rounds (R-SD) recently sent a letter calling on the Biden administration to update Schedule A. In the House, the bipartisan Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for regular updates to Schedule A as part of its strategic recommendations. And leading organizations in healthcare, immigration, and innovation, including, have urged DOL to resume updating Schedule A.

Policy experts have recommended different approaches for determining when and which occupations should be added, like using available government data to identify labor gaps at regular intervals, or creating permanent eligibility categories for U.S. STEM graduates and other workers who will earn high wages above the median salary for their occupation. These are smart, deeply researched proposals that can guide DOL’s efforts to modernize this tool.

Updating Schedule A is not a silver bullet fix for the U.S.’ greater demographic and workforce challenges; however, modernizing Schedule A could streamline the process for workers where they are needed the most, including delivering lifesaving healthcare to rural Americans, strengthening American competitiveness in emerging industries of the future, and helping the U.S. retain more international students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities.

The Labor Department recently published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input on adding additional occupations, including in STEM fields, to Schedule A. strongly encourages stakeholders and policy experts to submit public comments in response to the RFI, and we urge DOL to continue advancing the regulatory process to implement Schedule A updates as quickly as possible.


  1. Analysis is based on Department of Labor data reporting the number of applications processed each year. The cost-saving analysis was produced by estimating the share of DOL’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification annual budget allocation that went towards processing PERM applications, and applying that cost to the share of PERM determinations that were for STEM and Healthcare occupations. PERM filings were sorted by their Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; for STEM, we included all occupations classified under SOC 15 (Computer and Mathematical Occupations), SOC 17-2000 (Engineers), and SOC 19 (Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations); for healthcare, we included SOC 29 (Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations) and SOC 31 (Healthcare Support Occupations). The calculations were based on annual averages for fiscal 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Andrew Moriarty

Immigration Policy Fellow

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