Bill Lifting Visa Caps Advances

The immigration bill easing the wait for green card for nationals of some countries will be introduced in the Senate soon. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who last year blocked the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 3012) which was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives, has finally lifted his hold on the bill.

Senator Grassley put a hold on the bill because he believed the law did not protect high-skilled American workers. He has introduced legislation to reform the H-1B and L-1 visa programs.

A compromise was recently struck between him and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. The bill would provide for increased oversight of the H-1B visa program. The Department of Labor would be able to better review labor condition applications and investigate fraud and misrepresentation by employers. There would also be annual compliance audits of employers who bring in H-1B workers.

H.R. 3012 eliminates per-country caps for the employment-based categories but not increase the over-all number of available immigrant visas or green cards. Its effect would be to shorten the waiting time of applicants from China and India, some of whom face waits of up to 70 years.

The bill would also adjust upward the per country limit on visas in the family-based preferences, from the current 7% limit to 15%. This would benefit nationals of the Philippines and Mexico who are waiting for a family-based green card.

The current visa system places an annual cap of 140,000 visas for employment based categories, and 226,000 for family-based categories. No more than 7% of that number is allowed to be allocated to any one country. Family members of the green card applicant are counted towards the number of available visas.

This current system is criticized for being unfair and arbitrary because it discriminates against nationals of countries where the demand for green cards is high and where many high-skilled immigrants come from. For the supporters of H.R. 3012, a first-come-first-served system in the employment preferences is the fair solution to the visa backlog.

However, since the bill would only redistribute existing visas and not add new ones, the elimination of the country caps would result in longer wait times for other countries.

For example, because of the most recent visa retrogression visa numbers in the EB-2 category (advanced degree holders and persons of exceptional ability) have become unavailable for nationals of China and India, and in July 2012 a cut-off date of January 1, 2009 was created for the Philippines, Mexico and other countries. Assuming that the retrogression continues, the two-year backlog faced by nationals of the Philippines, Mexico and other countries would increase as more immigrant visas are reallocated to China and India because of the operation of H.R. 3012. It is expected that by 2015, there would be a backlog for all countries in the employment-based categories as a result of the bill.

On the other hand, nationals of Mexico and the Philippines, the two most oversubscribed countries in the family-based categories, would face shorter waiting times for a green card, especially siblings and children of U.S. citizens.

H.R. 3012 passed in November 2011 with the support of 96% of the House of Representatives, a rare showing of cooperation in today’s deeply divided Congress. Businesses in the science and technology fields are ardent supporters of the bill.

Pending debate in the Senate, the fate of the bill is uncertain but, if the bipartisanship in Congress is any indication, it will likely be passed soon. President Obama endorsed the bill last year. GOP candidate Mitt Romney has expressed support for high-skilled immigration reform in general.