By Robert L. Reeves & Nancy E. Miller
In one of the only bipartisan measures to come out of the 112th Congress, the House Judiciary Committee voted to eliminate per-country numerical limitations for employment-based green cards. The bill, which is called the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, was introduced on September 22 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah. It was co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas and Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California. The bill now goes to the House floor where it will be considered and voted on by the entire House of Representatives. Before it becomes law, it will still need to be voted on and passed by the Senate. If it makes it that far, it will then be presented to the President for his signature. Only after all that will it have any legal effect.
Employment-based green cards cover a wide variety of workers. They include workers of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, multinational executives and managers, members of the professionals holding advanced degrees or possessing exceptional ability as well as skilled workers, professionals and other workers. Under the current system, the number of employment-based green cards cannot exceed 7% of the total number of green cards available each year. This cap has created a backlog because some countries have more of the skilled workers that American employers want so natives of those countries must often wait years longer for green cards than natives of other countries that do not have as many workers possessing those needed skills. In some instances, intending immigrants must wait for anywhere from 6 to 8 years before receiving their employment-based green cards. This, of course, means that the employers who wish to hire them need to wait that same period of time (unless the employee has a non-immigrant employment-based visa that permits them to work for the company while they wait for the priority date to become current).
Rep. Chaffetz, who called the legislation “pro-growth, pro-jobs, and pro-innovation” said that the bill is important because American companies view all highly skilled immigrants as the same regardless of where they are from and our immigration policy should do the same. Rep. Smith said the bill makes sense because American employers who seek green cards for skilled workers should not have to wait longer for an employee just because of where the employee is from. Smith also pointed out that employers seeking green cards for foreign nationals have already proven to the U.S. government that they need these workers; that qualified Americans are not available and that American workers would not be harmed by the hiring of these workers.
If passed, the bill will set an three-year transition period to phase out the employment-based per country caps. It would also raise the family-sponsored per country cap from 7% to 15%.
It is a long road from a Judiciary Committee to an actual law but this may represent the first step in easing the plight of employment-based and family-based immigrants. But, in reality this is only a band aid as Congress needs to increase the total number of visas to reduce the backlog. Reeves & Associates will keep you informed of the progress this bill makes as it travels down that road.