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Americans Support High Skilled Immigration, Worry About Waits for Some

A new poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the Bipartisan Policy Center found that American voters recognize increased access to highly skilled legal immigration as a key element to growing the economy and bolstering U.S. competitiveness. Moreover, many believe that the long waits faced by some immigrants for employment-based green cards are too long, limiting the effectiveness of the immigration system in reaching these goals.

While the political debate over immigration continues, Americans’ perspectives on the issue continue to shift. Recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans are increasingly concerned about immigration, with only 28% of Americans being satisfied with the level of immigration to the United States. However, another poll of Republican voters by the American Principles Project shows that while immigration is the number two issue for these voters, a majority of them (59%) also support comprehensive immigration reform legislation with a pathway to citizenship.

These competing views highlight the challenge in reforming the immigration system. And yet, the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act last Congress, and increasing concerns over economic and technological competition with China, have spotlighted the need for skilled workers to support national economic and security goals. However, the immigration system continues to create challenges for high-skilled immigrants to stay in the U.S., making it difficult to use it to address concerns over both global competitiveness and long-standing worries about whether the U.S. has a sufficient number of skilled workers, especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. To learn more about American voters’ perspectives on high-skilled immigration to the United States, BPC partnered with Morning Consult to survey a national sample of 2,006 registered voters. The survey was conducted December 10-15, 2022, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2%.

Top Six Takeaways

  1. Immigration is top of mind for the typical American voter.
    • 77% of voters view immigration as very important (42%) or somewhat important (35%) to them personally.
    • This includes 71% of Democrats, 73% of independents and 88% of Republicans.
  2. A supermajority of American voters support high-skilled immigration, even more than immigration generally.
    • 76% of voters strongly support (40%) or somewhat support (36%) highly skilled people coming to live and work in the United States, including 85% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 68% of Republicans.
    • Support is somewhat lower but still strong for immigration broadly. Specifically, 62% of voters somewhat (35%) or strongly (27%) support immigrants coming to live and work in the United States. This includes 77% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 45% of Republicans.
  3. While voters are less sure about the impact of immigrants generally on the economy, a majority believes that highly skilled immigrants help the economy.
    • 56% of voters think that highly-skilled immigrants help the United States economy, while only 16% think they hurt the economy.
      • Similarly, 57% of voters think that increasing high-skilled employment-based immigration would positively impact the economy, while 42% of voters say increasing employment-based immigration generally would have a positive impact on the economy.
      • 56% think allowing foreign students with in-demand and STEM degrees to stay in the United States after graduation would positively impact the economy. This view holds nearly a bipartisan majority (65% of Democrats, 55% of independents and 47% of Republicans).
  4. Further, 7 in 10 (71%) voters support the United States providing green cards to immigrants to live and work in the United States even after being presented with opposing positions: that providing green cards takes jobs from native-born workers or that it helps fill open jobs in growing industries to help grow the economy.
  5. While many Americans are unfamiliar with the green card process, when told about visa wait times, a majority of voters think that a wait time of 11 years for Indian nationals is too long.
    • When asked to guess how long most employment-based immigrants have to wait for a green card, 38% (a plurality) of voters said they didn’t know. The remainder of the responses were spread out among choices from less than 6 months to 10 to 14 years.
    • Still, 59% of voters think that the current wait time for an employment-based immigrant from India—11 years—is too long. This includes majorities of Democrats (63%), Republicans (53%), and independents (63%).
    • A plurality of voters (44%) believe that an average wait time of 2 years for most countries is the right amount.
  6. A plurality of voters support legislation to remove per-country green card caps, but majorities of voters say they are more likely to support that action when associated with competitiveness and the economy. Fifty-one percent of voters would be more likely to support lifting the per-country green card cap if lawmakers do so to increase America’s competitiveness (only 16% are less likely to support).
    • 50% of voters would be more likely to support the action if it is framed as enabling the economy of the future (only 18% are less likely to support).


The value of highly skilled immigrants. While the results of the poll would indicate that Americans understand and do link skilled immigration with economic competitiveness and growth, a gap remains between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of immigration generally. Despite this, majorities of Democrats and Republicans support giving green cards to immigrants to live and work in the United States. Moreover, the proportion of registered voters who think immigrants help the U.S. economy increases by 21 percentage points when asked the same about “highly skilled” immigrants. Overall, 60% of voters are supportive of immigrants generally and high-skilled immigrants coming to live and work in the U.S., with Democrats being more in favor of both.

Lack of knowledge about the green card process. More concerning, however, is how few voters know or understand the current situation with employment-based green cards, per-country limits, and wait times. Within this poll, fully two- thirds (67%) of registered voters reported they had not themselves, nor anyone among their family, co-workers, or friend circle, ever gone through the green card process. Yet 54% of voters said they were very or somewhat familiar with the process of getting a green card in the United States, indicating that many voters may overestimate their understanding of the current immigration system. In particular, 38% of voters said they had no knowledge of the average time it takes to get an employment-based green card, and the remaining voters were generally split among choices of less than six months, six months to a year, 1-2 years, and 3-5 years.

Per-country caps. The United States places a cap on the number of green cards available each year to nationals of any single country. The cap is the same for every country—7% of the total issued that year. Due to these caps, some individuals, simply based on where they were born, must wait much longer than others to receive a green card. Voters were split (39% agree, 38% disagree) on whether the U.S. should have such country-based caps for employment-based green cards. Another 22% expressed no opinion or didn’t know their position. In general, more Republicans (47%) than Democrats (33%) agreed with having per-country limits, while independents were almost identical to Democrats with 33% agreeing and 42% disagreeing. More independents (25%) expressed no opinion or didn’t know their answer to the question than voters of either party. More public education is needed on this topic to assess voter perspectives.

Wait times. Even so, when asked about current average wait times, for Indians, 59% said 11 years is too long, including majorities of Democrats (63%), Republicans (53%) and independents (63%). (18% of voters said it was the right amount, 5% said it was too short and 17% said they don’t know or have no opinion.) Forty-four percent (the plurality) thought the 2-year wait for most countries of the world was the right duration with another 26% saying it was too long. Voter views were split on whether the average wait time for Chinese nationals (three and a half years) was too long or the right amount, with 31% in each category. Clearly, voters do not support longer wait times.

Removing per-country caps. Nearly half of voters (47%) would support legislation to remove the per-country cap for green cards that cause extended wait times, with 32% opposing and 22% unsure. Democrats are more supportive overall (58%) than Republicans (34%) or independents (47%). Voters were more likely to support removing the caps when doing so was linked to the national economy (49%), competitiveness (51%), or the future economy (50%). Republicans were most supportive when the topic was linked to competitiveness with China, a link that also favorably moved Democrats and independents. However, 19% of voters were still unsure about their position after seeing different messages on the impact of eliminating per-country caps.


American voters see immigration as an important issue for the United States, and value highly skilled legal immigration. Yet many do not know or understand the challenges faced by immigrants in getting a green card, while still agreeing that more than a decade to wait for one is too long. Key drivers of opinions seem to be the economy and global competitiveness, but differences among Republicans and Democrats remain. Most telling, however, is the large number (nearly one-fourth of voters) who seem unsure on these questions, meaning that improving the public’s understanding of the current immigration reality could shift public opinion.

As Congress begins to look at how to address these economic and competitiveness issues, clearly outlining the problem and the reason for any changes to the immigration system will be critical to public support.

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