In-Depth: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to alter the per-country limits for employment-based immigrants so that all people 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. At the heart of this broken system are the outdated employment- and family-based immigration systems, which suffer under decades-long backlogs.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. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act begins to address these problems and makes the immigration system somewhat more rational. It is a small, but good step forward.”
Last Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced this bill to fairly reward high-skilled workers in countries where they are long visa backlogs:
“I think we’re failing the people trying to come here legally and lawfully. Those are the people that suffer… [and] if you’re from India or China or Mexico, we often bump up against this cap literally within the first few days of a calendar year.”
In July 2017, after Rep. Chaffetz’s retirement, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) became the bill’s lead sponsor, after previously being an original cosponsor:
“I’ve always said that our nation is a nation of immigrants, as well as a nation of laws. This legislation strikes the perfect balance by achieving significant reforms of our employment-based green card system, helping American companies hire high-skilled immigrants to help grow our economy. Importantly, our bill helps them do it through the proper legal channels – the right way – which are all too often forgotten in debates over border security and illegal immigration. And it helps the many immigrants who are already living and working here on temporary visas obtain permanent residence they’ve earned through hard work and dedication to our country and its values, raising their families and children as Americans right here in our communities.”
Aman Kapoor, Co-Founder and President of Immigration Voice, calls this bill a "win-win for the American people":
"The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act is a win-win for the American people. It 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. We are incredibly grateful Chairwoman Lofgren and Ranking Member Buck for their leadership and are confident that this will be the year the bill will pass.”
Compete America and FWD.us support this bill. FWD.us’ President, Todd Schulte, said last year:
“Under the current system, no more than 7 percent of employment-based green cards are conferred to highly-skilled workers from any one country. The proposed bill would make it possible for the United States to continue attracting the best and the brightest scientists, engineers, architects and researchers without discriminating against applicants because of where they were born. H.R. 392 is a sensible step toward building a targeted high-skilled immigration system that will help us win the global race for talent, create millions of American jobs and boost wages for the middle class in the 21st century economy.”
Writing for Foreign Policy, Maziar Motamedi, a Tehran-based journalist, argues that this bill would harm highly skilled immigrants from smaller nations, such as Iran:
"[This bill would] prove a boon almost exclusively to employment-based immigrants from India and China; smaller countries will suffer... Proponents mainly argue that removing the per-country numerical cap can solve a major backlog problem that is exacerbated by the country caps and adversely affects Indian employment-based immigrants the most because so many of them are seeking permanent residency. More than 306,000 Indians and 67,000 Chinese immigrants were waiting in the employment-based green-card queue, according to USCIS figures reported in May. If it becomes law, the bill will most probably mean that the majority of employment-based green cards issued in the next decade will go to people from India... H.R. 392 means systemic bias toward employment-based immigrants from every other country. Yes, there is no denying that the current system is very hard on legal working immigrants from India, and to a lesser degree China, who are forced to wait for long periods... However, if the majority of employment-based green cards issued in the next decade go to people from India and China, it will mean easing the burden on one or two countries by transferring it onto the shoulders of thousands of immigrants from dozens of other countries, which hardly seems like a fair and logical solution. U.S. lawmakers would be better advised to pursue wider immigration reform that does not brazenly punish one or several groups to the benefit of others."
Invest In The USA (IIUSA), an EB-5 regional trade organization, notes that this bill would likely harm the EB-5 investor program. According to IIUSA's data, the elimination of per-country caps for EB-5 would eliminate any new EB-5 economic development investment in the U.S. for at least 10 years. IIUSA's executive director, Aaron Grau, says:
“While the elimination of per-country caps may make sense for some categories, the elimination of the per-country cap for EB-5 will be to the detriment of the [EB-5 immigrant investor] program. In the past year alone, the EB-5 program is responsible for over $3 billion in new economic development and over 100,000 jobs in the United States. Not excluding EB-5 from this proposal will put this type of new investment at risk."
NumbersUSA, the nation’s largest interest group that supports reduced levels of immigration, hasn’t taken a position on this bill’s previous iterations since it will not change overall immigration levels.
This bill has 224 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 154 Democrats and 70 Republicans. A Senate version of this bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), has 21 bipartisan cosponsors, including 12 Republicans and nine Democrats.
In the 115th Congress, this bill had 329 bipartisan cosponsors, including 176 Democrats and 153 Republicans, but didn't receive a committee vote. A Senate version of this bill in the 115th Congress, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), had 20 bipartisan cosponsors, including 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, and also didn't receive a committee vote.
An identical version of this bill passed the House during the 112th Congress with a bipartisan vote of 389 to 15. Subsequent versions were introduced in the 113th (HR 633) and 114th (HR 213) Congresses, but didn’t receive a vote.
This bill has the support of Immigration Voice, New American Economy, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the Republican Hindu Coalition, Compete America, Skilled Immigrants in America, and large tech companies, including Microsoft, Texas Instruments, IBM, Amazon and Bangalore-based tech-giant Infosys.
Of Note: Under the current immigration system, immigrants from any one country can claim no more than 7% of the 140,000 employment-based green cards issued annually to foreign nationals working in the U.S. This significantly disadvantages immigrants from larger countries that more immigrants come from.
For example, China (population 1.3 billion) and India have large backlogs of workers wishing to immigrate to and work in the U.S., but they have the name visa caps as countries such as Iceland or Estonia (population 1.3 million), which have both much smaller populations and far fewer citizens seeking to immigrate to the U.S.
The net effect of this is that immigrants from India and China can face decades-long waits, averaging 2-3 times the wait times for immigrants from other countries, for green cards, and many have to return home because they can’t get permanent residency; meanwhile, countries such as Iceland and Estonia never come close to reaching their visa limit caps. By some estimates, Indians applying for green cards today could wait for 150 years or more for green cards that they've already earned, simply because many Indians are already employed in the U.S.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: brazzo / iStock)