Harris’ Senate Bill Next for Green Card Reform after House Approval

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Legislation to eliminate country visa caps finally got through the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, July 10, a move that could benefit India’s IT workers.

If the bill, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, clears the Senate and is signed into law by President Trump, it would eliminate the per-country limits on employment-based visas and implement 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. If it becomes law, the act could speed the green-card process from the current decades-long wait for Indian professional.

The bipartisan bill, H.R. 1044, introduced by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.), would strengthen the American workforce by reducing the wait time for those impacted most by the decades-long backlog of immigrant visas (“green cards” that allow holders to permanently live in the U.S.).and was passed by the House by an overwhelming 365-65 vote in the 435-member chamber.

This bill increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from 7 percent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 percent and eliminates the 7 percent cap for employment-based immigrant visas. It also removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.

The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY 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.

Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 percent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country, Congressional Research Service said. The bill, however, has to be passed by the Senate, where the Republicans enjoy a majority before it can be signed into law by the president. An identical bill sponsored by Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, is likely to be taken up soon.

The Senate bill. S386, has 34 co-sponsors. It is, however, not clear if its proponents think that is enough to bring the bill to the floor for voting in a 100-member Senate.

Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California said through a press note, “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.”

She stated 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.”

However, the Department of Homeland Security has said that it does not support either S.386 or H.R. 1044. “This bill would do nothing to move the current employment-sponsored system toward a more merit-based system,” said Joseph Joh, Assistant Director and Senior Advisor in the Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Homeland Security.

Top American IT companies welcomed the passage of the bill and urged the Senate to pass it as soon as possible so President Trump can sign it into law.

“Today the U.S. 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.

FWD.US, an advocacy organization representing top Silicon Valley companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and DropBox, welcomed the passage of the bill.

FWD.US President Todd Schulte said after the bill’s passage, “This bill will help ensure those seeking permanent residency don’t 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.”

“Now that the House has acted, the Senate should immediately take up its bipartisan companion bill, S. 386, led by Senators Lee (R-UT) and Harris (D-CA),” he said.

“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 establishing a fair and predictable path to permanent legal status Schulte said.

Leon Fresco, an immigration lawyer and former Obama administration official, said the bill would create no new green cards and no new H-1B visas.

“Even if 100 million Indian tech workers suddenly now want to come to America after the bill passes, not one additional Indian worker will get a visa than otherwise because these categories are capped,” he said.

“The only thing this bill does is to ensure that all new applicants will wait the exact same time for a green card, regardless of country of birth. No moral reason to treat people differently based on their nationality,” said Fresco, a Democrat who served in the Department of Justice in the Obama administration. “Under this bill, there will never be any person from any non-backlogged country that EVER has to wait longer for receipt of a green card than anyone from India or China who applied on the same day (or any day after).”


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