Are Visa Backlogs threatening the U.S. Economy?

COVID-19 continues to worsen the increasingly large visa backlog in the United States, increasing wait times for individuals trying to enter the United States, and recent reports have noted the significant and often detrimental economic impact of those long wait times. In response, employers have started to seek alternatives, including relying on remote work performed overseas.

The United States Visa Backlog

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the State Department’s ability to process immigrant visa applications, creating a backlog of approximately 1.5 million cases with an average wait time of over 1,200 days. Of course, this backlog creates lengthy delays and uncertainty for individuals awaiting determination of their pending immigration matters.

As the backlog reaches new heights, efforts are being made to address pending immigration cases in a more expedited fashion. However, without a clear governmental response to the issue, employers have begun considering options that rely less on the U.S. economy, and instead focus on work that can be performed overseas.

Addressing the Threat to the American Economy

David North of the Center for Immigration Studies recently published an article addressing the impact of the current backlog on the American economy. The article details the impact the visa backlog will have on the labor market, and considers the impact on the environment and the population, as well as administrative considerations.  The findings are as follows:


Employment Practice Impacts

Work here by U.S. Residents

Work done overseas remotely

Work done by noncitizen workers here

Labor Market

No disadvantages

U.S. jobs lost

U.S. jobs lost


No additional damage to the environment

No additional damage to the environment

More people using our infrastructure than needed


No extra people

No extra people

Extra people in United States


No extra costs to either employers or our government

No extra costs to either employers or our government

Extra costs for employers and the government


4 advantages

3 advantages, 1 disadvantage

4 disadvantages

Source: The Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, DC.

The article reflects reports that the visa backlog continues to have a detrimental effect on the U.S economy. Clearly, the impact of the visa backlog is a nuanced and complicated issue that requires consideration from American legislators on both sides of the aisle. The status quo is forcing the hand of American employers to consider options that rely less on the American economy, and instead outsource potential American jobs overseas. As North points out, however, considerations exist beyond the simple impact outsourcing has on the economy. 

Inequitable Solutions for Administrative Delays

The backlog has additionally led to an increase in immigration-related lawsuits over administrative delays. Writs of mandamus, which are filed to compel federal agencies to fulfill their administrative duties under the law, have become increasingly common.  Mandamus filings offer an attractive option for litigants, as government attorneys often prefer to settle litigation over processing delays rather than fighting the matter in court. 

Litigation-related solutions, however, are solutions only for those litigants who have the resources to file federal lawsuits. Certainly, a more accessible solution would be preferable. Until executive and/or legislative action addresses the increasingly large visa backlog, the American economy will remain threatened, and inequitable access to solutions will persist.

©2022 Norris McLaughlin P.A., All Rights Reserved
National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 231