Tossing per-country caps for work-based Green Cards

In what is expected to bring hope to professionals in the immigrant community, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) is the lead sponsor of a bill that would eliminate existing per-country caps on employment-based green cards, a situation that has long caused delays for Indian and Chinese applicants awaiting permanent U.S. residency.

Speaking on the floor of the House late last month, Yoder, originally a cosponsor of the measure, noted that more than 700,000 high-skilled Indian workers in the U.S. are on temporary work visas. He said elimination of the per-nation caps on employment-based green cards will fix the system’s massive backlogs and bring fairness to the process. The bill is cosponsored by more than 200 members of Congress with more than 100 members from each party in support.

Speaking on the House floor on July 28, Yoder compared immigrants on temporary work visas to indentured servants, saying they were “stuck on a cycle of temporary work visas, unable to change jobs or even start their own small businesses to create American jobs. These people are working hard every day, helping grow our economy, and raising their children as Americans right here in our communities,” he said.

He said the biggest obstacle was the 7 percent per-nation cap on employment-based green cards, which he called “arbitrary.”

“Right now, there is a mother in Greenland whose unborn child will be able to obtain permanent residence in America before someone from India who has already been working here for years,” he said. “That’s absurd, and wrong.”

Under the existing per-country percentage caps, large nations like India and China, which account for more than 40 percent of the world’s population, receive the same number of visas as Greenland, a country that accounts for one-one thousandth of a percent of the world’s population, according to Yoder.

With about 95 percent of the employment-based green card applicants already living and working in America on temporary visas, the vast majority of applicants are simply waiting in line to get approved for permanent residence. But high-skilled immigrants from large countries are forced to wait two to three times longer under existing law.

H.R. 392, originally introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate, among other things, the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants.

Immigration Voice, an advocacy group that has been spearheading the demand for removal of per country caps for the past several years and had been working with Yoder for the past several months, praised the bill.

“Currently, because of these country caps over 1.5 million legal high-skilled immigrants like doctors, engineers and researchers, mostly from India, are stuck in decades-long green card backlogs,” the group said.”Most will die before they get a green card if the current system exists.”

Vikram Desai of the Immigration Voice told India Abroad that the present situation hampers the workers’ choices and leaves them vulnerable. “They can’t change jobs easily, ask for raises, open a business or travel freely,” Desai said. “Additionally, bad employers take advantage of this situation which has led to abuse of immigrant workers and displacement of American workers.”

He said the employment-based skilled immigrants face more backlogs if they are from India, China, Mexico or the Philippines than backlogs they would face if they were born elsewhere. He said if other nations fail to use their 7 percent allotment of visas, the unused portion is almost never allocated to these four nations, which have the highest number of scientists, engineers and workers in technology.

Immigration Voice called the practice discriminatory because, the group, said, immigrants from those four nations are subjected to greater backlogs and hardship.

Yoder said the bill would address this and “would transition us to a first-come, first-serve merit-based legal immigration system and would help these people in need, and help create new jobs.” He said he believed the bill would achieve “significant reforms of our employment-based green card system, helping American companies hire high-skilled immigrants to help grow our economy.”

Just as importantly, he said, the bill allows applicants to move forward through proper legal channels and assists those on temporary visas move toward permanent residency.

Observers such as Ron Hira, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Howard University, said the bill would go a long way to reduce long-term indenture for H-1B holders from India and create a better system.

“I think we should revamp the high-skilled immigration system so that workers, who are truly needed, are brought in as true immigrants rather than guest workers on H-1B, L-1, OPT,” Hira said.

“High-skilled foreigners shouldn’t be teased with the promise of permanent residency only to become an elusive 10+ year ordeal in attaining it. The current system isn’t fair to the guest workers and it isn’t fair to U.S. workers.”

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