Green Card overhaul?

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Support is growing among U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives for a bill that would bring about drastic change in the way Green Cards are distributed by abolishing nationality quotas for employment-based immigration – a measure that could benefit hundreds of thousands of Indians waiting in line for years to put down roots in the United States. Eight more lawmakers signed on between March 22 and 24 to bring the number of bipartisan co-sponsors for the bill up to 152. The bill does not affect family reunification and other quotas, but only the employment-based component.

House Resolution 392, entitled “To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants, to increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrants, and for other purposes,” was re-introduced in Congress Jan. 10, by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

All four Indian-American lawmakers, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, Ro Khanna, D-California, and Ami Bera, D-California have signed on to the bill as well.

Immigration Voice volunteers with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, third from right, sponsor of H.R. 392, a bill that removes per-country caps on employment based Green Cards.

Of the 150 co-sponsors, 66 are Republicans. They include influential Congressmen like Rep. Ed Royce of California, and House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, D-New York. On Feb. 6, the House Judiciary Committee referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

“This is a common-sense bill to help the American economy by allocating these limited visas on a more effective and meritocratic basis than they are today,” Rep. Krishnamoorthi told News India Times. Rep. Chaffetz’s office did not get back by press time.

Referring to House Resolution 392, Prakash Khatri, an attorney and former Ombudsman of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, said, “The lifting of the 7 percent cap on per country Green Cards, over a period of two or three years, would clear the backlog.”

Aman Kapoor, co-founder of Immigration Voice, which has been fighting for the change since 2006, says they are hoping to increase the number of co-sponsors to 220 to possibly get it passed through Congress. A companion bill Senate resolution S 281, was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah on Feb. 2. It has no co-sponsors and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee the same day.

Scope Of Problem

This Feb. 27-28, some 125 members of Immigration Voice from around the country, descended on Capitol Hill to engage staffers and lawmakers in 400 one-on-one meetings to discuss the bill.

According to the State Department Visa Bulletin for April 2017, there’s a 12-year wait for the (3rd Preference) employment-based Green Cards for Indian applicants. They want the Trump administration to hear them and hope their bills, one of which has rising bipartisan support in the House, will help shape any changes envisaged.

House Res. 392 and S281, are a “technical fix” to the longstanding backlogs, Kapoor says.

Of the one million or so Green Cards granted by the U.S. annually, only a total of 140,000 are employment-based. Every country, regardless of size, has a 7 percent limit for employment-based Green Cards, which translates to approximately 2,803 per year for India for the three most used employment-based categories.

Prakash Khatri

While its “almost impossible” to calculate the number Indians with H1-Bs in the country, the number could well be above one million, said Kapoor. Khatri said it would definitely be in the hundreds of thousands and could possibly be over a million. “I spent four and a half years dealing with these statistics and they are so convoluted that every year I wrote in my report how no one can figure out the numbers and that’s bad because even the government can’t figure it out,” Khatri said. “And that was nine years ago. They still haven’t fixed it.”

The H1-B visa system allows 85,000 high skilled workers to come to this country, an overwhelming proportion of the total annually came from India. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration annual reports show that between 2005 and 2015, the last year for which it provides data, the number of Indians given the “Initial Employment” H1-B visa total 691,749. The figures also show a huge spike in the years 2012 to 2014.

Vivek Wadhwa

But they do not include spouses or extensions granted. In fact, the USCIS, in one of its reports, says the initial three-year visa can not only be renewed, but if an H1-B worker has secured an approved petition for a labor certification, and thus potentially a green card, he or she could extend their H-1B status beyond the six years, even though the approved petition is unlikely to produce an immigrant visa for many years.

This happens because many H-1Bs who have an approved immigrant petition are from India and other nations where there are long backlogs of such approved labor certifications. “In short, if an H-1B handles these opportunities well, the alien can stay in H-1B status until such time as he or she can adjust to permanent resident status. Though labeled a temporary visa, it can have all the characteristics of a permanent one,” the USCIS said.

These high-skilled workers add to the waiting list for employment-based Green Card allocation of 7 percent per country per year.

Jason Chaffetz

They want the opportunity to get permanent residency based on their skills rather than country of origin. Hence they support the bills which call for lifting that 7 percent country quota for employment-based Green Cards. Getting the Green Card sooner would also untie them from the employer who brought them on an H1-B visa and have the freedom to look for other jobs.

Referring to this possibility, Kapoor said, “We advocate in Congress that we should be allowed to be free, to live by the American promise of ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’ – which apparently does not apply to skilled workers.”

Advocates and some experts concerned about America’s future in innovation, don’t expect major companies to necessarily back this change because the H1-B system ties Indian employees for long periods of time to one company, which also owns the patents and innovations created by their employees. For employment-based applicants from other countries, the wait time for the Green Card is much shorter. Not so for Indians.

“Companies prefer hiring Indians because it’s easier to lock-down the employee,” Kapoor says. “So, this is not a competition between Indian immigrants and American workers, both of whom are on the same side of the debate.”

According to Vivek Wadhwa, a technology entrepreneur-turned-academic who closely studies immigration and high-skilled workforce issues, “One of Silicon Valley’s darkest secrets is that its companies lobby for these visas – and are against changes to it so that they can benefit from people being locked in.” Companies are lobbying as we speak, he said, “to keep it the same because they have bonded labor,” he added. “Even immigration lawyers don’t want change. They benefit from bringing in such labor,” Wadhwa says. “One has to think out-of-the-box.”

Escalation Of Commitment

If things are so bad, one would ask, why not move back to India?

“There’s something called ‘escalation of commitment’,” says Kapoor. “You’ve already invested five or six years, why not wait another two years in case you get the Green Card; then people think a new administration is coming in and maybe there could be changes. So the cycle goes on.”

“A better solution is simply un-tether the employment-based visa from the company,” Wadhwa says. “The focus needs to be on green cards – so that we can get people who enjoy the same rights as Americans. They are the ones who start companies and boost the economy.”

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