Hope has reignited for more than half a million Indian legal immigrant workers and their immediate family members stuck almost infinitely in the immigration pipeline for a Green Card: the US House of Representatives in a rare show of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill passed a resolution that, if enacted into law, would bring down the estimated wait time for a Green Card to less than 10 years from the current preposterous timeline for some that exceeds 100 years.
The US House of Representatives passed the resolution introduced by US Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ken Buck (R-CO), ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019’ or ‘H.R. 1044’ by an overwhelming 365-65 votes margin, on Wednesday. A total of 140 Republicans, including Minority House leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, voted for the legislation.
The resolution now makes its way to the Senate, as S. 386, sponsored by Democrat Presidential aspirant Sen. Kamala Harris of California. If the Senate passes the measure too, then it would have to be reconciled by the House and the Senate, before it makes its way to the desk of President Trump for his signature.
Needless to say, the arduous lobbying and tenuous journey for the resolution to make the life of legal immigrant workers from India in the US less complicated, with greater quality of life assured, has many more road blocks to cross and jump before it becomes reality.
Anti-immigration groups and conservative hawks who detest the idea of immigrants of color gaining in numbers in the US work force, especially from India, have begun an all-out war to thwart the measure, which was introduced last year too on Capitol Hill, but was never voted upon as bickering increased over immigration reforms.
In a statement, Lofgren exulted over the passage of the legislation, saying, it “would strengthen the American workforce by reducing the wait time for those impacted most by the decades-long backlog of immigrant visas (“green cards”). H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, would achieve this by eliminating the per-country limits on employment-based visas and implementing a fair and equitable “first come, first served” system. The bill would also increase the per-country limit on family-based visas from 7 percent to 15 percent.”
The legislation, if enacted into law, would be implemented over a three-year phase-in period: during year one, no more than 85 percent of employment-based visas may be allocated to India or China; in years two and three, no more than 90 percent of employment-based visas may be allocated to India or China.
Also during this period, a safety provision would prevent visas from going unused. It would also ensure that immigrants who have an approved employment-based visa petition prior to the bill’s date of enactment don’t lose their place in line.
The legislation is also good news for family-sponsored immigrants, who have been under the radar of President Trump: it would raise the “per country” cap for family-sponsored immigrant visas from 7 percent to 15 percent.
“In order for American industries to remain competitive and create more jobs, they must be able to recruit and retain the best talent in the world,” said Lofgren, Chair of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, in her statement. “This becomes increasingly difficult when workers from high-population countries must compete for the same limited number of visas as workers from low population countries. Our bipartisan bill would phase-in a visa system where the applicant’s nationality is irrelevant, providing relief to individuals who’ve waited patiently for a green card for years, if not decades, while they continue to work and contribute to our economy.”
Buck, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, added in a statement: “It’s time 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. 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.”
The bill is also supported by a variety of immigration, business, and technology groups including Compete America, FWD.us, the Information Technology Industry Council, the LIBRE Initiative, and New American Economy.
The per-country cap has meant that only around 23,000 Indian nationals get green cards each year, with an increasing choke in the pipeline that often sees retrogression, which leads to increase in wait time for aspirants. There are at present an estimated 300,000 Indian nationals with a work visa and an equal number of family members in the line, for a Green Card.
The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from Financial Year 2020-22 by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas, reported PTI.
Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 per cent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country, Congressional Research Service (CRS) said.
The bill has more supporters than critics, away from Capitol Hill too. Top American companies welcomed the passage of the legislation, and urged the Senate to do its job and pass the legislation.
“Today the US House passed legislation to ensure people from all countries are treated the same in the green card process. This promotes a fair high-skilled immigration system that’s good for business and our economy,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith.
Amazon tweeted: “Thank you to @RepZoeLofgren and the 311 House cosponsors for supporting the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act. #HR1044”
Todd Schulte, President FWD.uS, an advocacy organization representing top Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and DropBox, said that “this bill will help ensure that those seeking permanent residency will not have to face extraordinary wait times — projected at 50 years or more for people from countries like India and China — simply because of their country of origin.”
He added: “Eliminating ‘per-country’ caps for employment-based green cards and raising caps for family-based green cards will make the system fairer for immigrant families while also strengthening the United States’ ability to recruit and retain top global talent by
The Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management lauded the legislation and said in a statement: “Eliminating employment per country caps will create a first-come, first-served green card system, putting talent and skills first so we can meet the current and future workforce needs of this country.”
Aman Kapoor, the co-founder and president of Immigration Voice, the top group who’s been championing the cause, said in a statement that it would benefit America as there would be more entrepreneurs if skilled workers get a Green Card sooner: “People are finally understanding that no matter what else is wrong with our immigration system, we can all agree that discrimination should never be a basis for deciding who is given access to permanent residency in the United States.”
Breitbart reported Andrew Moriarty, deputy director of federal policy at Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us advocacy group comparing the HR.1044 “country caps” bill to the Democrats’ DACA-amnesty bill.
“This is a very important bipartisan effort that we strongly support… If this passes, it will join the Dream and Promise Act as two pieces of commonsense but CRUCIAL immigration legislation passed by the House this year, waiting only for a vote in the Senate,” he said.
Immigration attorney Emily Neumann, partner in the law firm of Reddy & Neumann, P.C, in her blog on the news of the passage of the legislation, noted the hurdles ahead, though for Green Card aspirants to be truly assured of when they would get a Green Card.
“Next step is the Senate version of the Bill, S. 386, which currently has 34 Cosponsors. It is unclear whether there will be enough support for the Senate to take any action on the bill. There is growing opposition. Even though the bill simply removes discrimination from the existing law and does not change the number of green cards that can be issued, concerns of increased wait times for nationals of countries with lesser demand remains,” Neumann noted.
Neumann also noted that ‘Sen. Grassley (R-IA) added an amendment which would add additional H-1B visa oversight and this was agreed to by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), the sponsor of S. 386. But, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the bill being brought to the Senate floor last week after his amendment to create a special exception for nurses was not considered. Other Democrats have raised concerns that the bill would reallocate green cards among different nationalities without a needed increase in the number green cards.’
In response to Neumann’s blog, a reader commented on his situation waiting for a Green Card: “I’ve been working for Apple and Intel for the last ten years now. I have a master’s degree from one of the best universities in the United States. I was not brought here by any of those companies. Why should I wait for 20+ years when the same person from Japan with the same qualifications can get it in less than two?”
That comment in a nutshell encompasses what the legislation intends to do. Bring parity, end discrimination when issuing a Green Card.
Problem is, not everybody sees it that way.