US Senate lifts off per-country cap for H-1B work visas

Ritu Jha-

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (S.386/H.R.1044), which eliminates the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants is again back in the news creating a buzz among the Indian-American community whether it would reach President Trump’s desk.

On Wednesday, the US Senate has unanimously passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that eliminates the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas and raises it for family-based visas.

The legislation eliminates the 7% cap for employment-based immigrant visas and will facilitate the massive backlog of Indian IT professionals in the US.

In July, Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah had told the Senate that the backlog for an Indian national to get permanent residency or Green Card is more than 195 years.

Senator Mike Lee office told indica News over the phone, the Bill has been sent to Senator Rick Scott, the one who has the final hold on the Bill. His consideration on an amendment bill, he(Scott) would like to see.

When asked what’s the status after the amendments, said the Bill has been already been sent for House approval but not sure how long they (House) plans to take it to the floor but assume it should be pretty prompt, she said.

However, Senator Lee office believes it’s not sure if Bill 1044 could reach President Trump’s desk this Christmas. But sure, would move to the next 117 US Congress session.

The new legislation also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY2020-FY2022, 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.

In regards to the unreserved visas, 85% shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country. It was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent and soon thereafter it was considered by the full Senate.

Currently, there is a backlog of almost one million foreign nationals and accompanying family members lawfully residing in the US who have been approved for, and are waiting to receive, employment-based Green Cards. The largest number of them are from India.

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act creates a more merit-based system that levels the playing field for high-skilled immigrants, said Senator Kevin Cranmer, who worked to ensure that the legislation includes safeguards against fraud and abuse in the visa system.

Senator Lee in his statement Dec. 3 said, “Few ideas are more central to who we are as Americans than the notion that people should be judged based on their own merits as individuals and not on their race or nationality.”

He said,  “This legislation lives up to our founding principles by ending nationality discrimination in our nation’s employment-based green-card system. It also contains much-needed reforms to our H-1B visa system. American families should always be our top priority and this bill contains strong new protections for American workers.”

The Senate passed the bill as Senator Cramer presided over the chamber. “Immigration is often a contentious issue, but we should not delay progress where there is bipartisan consensus,” he said.

In February 2019, Cramer brought Debjyoti Dwivedy (“DD”), a North Dakota State University alumnus and Vice President of Immigration Voice, a group that advocates for this bill, as his guest to the State of the Union.

“As Congress debates the many aspects of our broken immigration system, Debjyoti offers expertise and experiences that reflect North Dakota priorities and values,” Senator Cramer said at the time.

“Being invited as his guest to the State of the Union was a great honor. To me, this demonstrates his appreciation for the important role immigrants play to North Dakota. His ardent support for the Fairness for Immigrants Act is found in both his conservative principles and his commitment to the people of North Dakota,” DD wrote after the event.

In August, Senator Lee on the Senate floor said that he has always been struck by the fact that the government has conditioned green cards and a pathway to citizenship based solely on the applicant’s country of origin.

There may have been some legitimate reason many decades ago in fact for this, but this has led to a system that largely discriminates against green card applicants from one country, he told his Senate colleagues.

“I mean literally one country. This is inconsistent with our founding principles. this is not how we try to do things as Americans, and it’s not right,” he said.

“If you’re born anywhere else other than China; let’s say in Ghana, Sweden, Indonesia, basically any other country other than India your application will be considered immediately. This sort of discrimination is simply inconsistent with the principles of a merit-based immigration system and with our founding principles and the principles that unite us as Americans,” he had said.

Meanwhile, Senator Rick Scott released the following statement after the Senate voice voted and passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (S.386/H.R.1044) said, “I know many of my Senate colleagues have spent years working on this measure, and I appreciate their hard work. My top priority is protecting American jobs and American workers, especially as our nation continues to struggle because of the coronavirus.”

He stated, “I also wanted to make sure we weren’t creating an unfair system that favors certain countries over others, or hurts immigrants that do not happen to be from these nations – like those from Latin America. I fought for months to find a solution that makes sense for Florida, and while the final bill is not perfect, I’m glad it includes my amendments to protect American jobs and national security, and make sure that the many deserving immigrants who do not possess an H1B visa have the opportunity to receive a green card. This is a positive step, but the bill still doesn’t go far enough to resolve the concerns of so many in Florida, and I voiced my opposition to it. I know how critical it is that we have a legal immigration system that is fair and allows people from all corners of the world to come here to live their version of the American Dream, and I will never stop fighting for reforms that support Florida’s economy and the diversity that we’ve worked so hard to protect.”


(Photo courtesy: Senator Mike Lee Twitter)