Fight for skilled immigrants begin anew on Capitol Hill


NEW YORK – It’s one thing for President Trump to exhort the cause of legal immigration in his State of the Union address, declaring he wants skilled immigrants to “come into our country in the largest numbers ever,” and quite another for those skilled immigrants to find themselves in limbo after they emigrate to the US, unsure for years and decades if they would ever be welcome to stay on permanently in the land they have carved a new home, started a family.

Recent developments on the legal immigration front seems more like strategies being shaped by some shrewd business-minded folks, who are more interested in raising capital, than ensuring steady levels of immigration.

While work visas for foreign workers are getting convoluted, with intense scrutiny, foreign students are being goaded to study more in the US, for an elusive work permit. This is a win-win situation for the US, with more capital pouring in for colleges and universities, while at the same paving the way for more Americans to take up available jobs.

The cog in the wheel for most skilled immigrants who pass through the rigors of studying, graduating, getting a job through an H-1B visa, and then being sponsored for a Green Card, is to actually get a Green Card. What with the long waiting period, which stretches to as much as mind boggling 100 years, the fear is applicants would die waiting for permanent residency.

Some legislators on Capitol Hill, mostly in the House, continue to strive for the rights of skilled immigrants. On Thursday, some legislators again took up the cudgels for these hard-working immigrants, to try and give them a fair chance to thrive and prosper in the US.

US Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), and 112 bipartisan members introduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 1044) – a bill to reform the legal immigration system by eliminating per-country percentage limits that cause backlogs in the employment-based green card system.

The bill would also ease backlogs for certain family-sponsored immigrants by modifying the per-country limits in the family-sponsored green card system.  Lofgren and Buck are the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, respectively.

In the Senate, which has often proved to be the barrier for such bills in the past, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced a companion bill with 13 co-sponsors.

The US makes 140,000 Green Cards available every year to employment-based immigrants, including many who first come here on temporary H-1B or L visas.  Current law, however, provides that no more than 7% of these green cards can go to nationals of any one country—even though some countries are more populous than others.  Because of this 7% limit, for example, a Chinese or Indian post-graduate at the top of her class at MIT may have to wait half a decade or more for a green card, much longer than a student from a less-populated country, like Japan.

The bipartisan ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act’ seeks to alter the per-country limits for employment-based immigrants so that all are treated equally regardless of their country of birth.

“We all know that our immigration system is severely broken, and it has been broken for decades,” said Lofgren, in a statement. “At the heart of this broken system are the outdated employment- and family-based immigration systems, which suffer under decades-long backlogs. In combination with the per country limits, these backlogs keep nuclear families apart for decades, while preventing U.S. employers from accessing and retaining the employees they need to stay competitive.”

Buck pointed out the unfair treatment meted out to Indian and Chinese nationals.

“Year after year, I have met with constituents who come here legally on work visas from India or China and face decades-long wait times for obtaining permanent residence. If we want to ensure America remains globally competitive, we need to ease the backlogs and leverage the talent and expertise of our high-skilled immigrants who help strengthen the U.S. economy and fill knowledge gaps in certain fields,” he said, adding, “These are people who have helped America grow and thrive as a nation of immigrants and we need to make sure our system continues to value those who are following our laws and doing the right thing.”

Aman Kapoor, Co-Founder and President of Immigration Voice, an immigration activist, said removing the country caps “would help to grow our economy by allowing highly skilled immigrants to start their own companies and hire American workers.  And, it will finally remove the last vestiges of discrimination from our high-skilled immigration system.”

The fact of the matter is that the bill will once again find it tough going on Capitol Hill, but it could see some fruition if there is traction on comprehensive immigration reforms later this year.

Trump’s focus to build a wall to deter illegal immigration may seem ironical given the fact that their numbers within the US borders continue to swell, and deportation numbers are often dwarfed by those who manage to sneak in. This is happening even as tens of thousands of skilled workers are finding themselves in a quandary, thinking of alternatives like emigrating to another developed country, or heading back to their home country, tired of waiting for a Green Card.

The Investor’s Business Daily calculated last month that if there are 22 million illegal immigrants in the US, that’s larger than the entire population of countries like Syria, Chile, the Netherlands and Ecuador. Even if the number is just 12 million, that’s still more than the entire population of Sweden, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Ireland and New Zealand.

Perhaps, it’s time to increase the number of legal immigrants into full-fledged permanent residents and citizens.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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