The House and the Senate Feb. 7 introduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants act, bipartisan legislation that aims to end the 70-plus year wait for Indian Americans seeking permanent residency in the U.S.

More than one million Indian Americans who have been approved to get a green card are stuck in the long queue because of per-country caps, which state that no single country can get more than seven percent of the 140,000 employment-based green cards available each year. The legislation, known as the Fairness for Highly-Skilled Immigrants act in both chambers, seeks to eliminate the green card backlog.

Separately, more than 600 Indian Americans rallied outside the White House Feb. 10 in an attempt to get President Donald Trump to add the issue of green card backlogs to his border security negotiations with Congress. The deadline for negotiations is Feb. 15, in order to avoid another government shutdown.

Yash Bodduluri and Krishna Bansal of the Republican Hindu Coalition headed up the rally. “Our immigration system is completely screwed up. It can take 150 years to get a green card for people who have settled here, paid taxes, bought homes and are part of the American economy,” Bodduluri, a financial analyst who has been stuck in the queue for eight years, told India-West. The Hyderabad native, who currently lives in Virginia with his wife and two young children, noted that most people in the queue pay federal, state, and property taxes. They also pay into the Social Security system, but will likely not receive any benefits from it unless they achieve permanent residency before retirement.

Critically, the children of H-1B visa holders are no longer considered dependents once they turn 18 and must return to the home country. Such kids are known as DALCAs, a riff on the term used for undocumented youth who are offered relief from deportation.

Both DACA and DALCA must be addressed in border security negotiations, asserted Bodduluri to India-West, adding that most Indian Americans stuck in the green card backlog are willing to pay for Trump’s border wall, via fees that would fast-track their green card applications.

The Republican Hindu Coalition has been working with the White House and Sen. Rand Paul for the last eight months to put the issue on the front-burner. Trump stated his support for the H-1B program and a pathway to citizenship for H-1B workers in an unexpected tweet Jan. 11 (see India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2N220pN).

Indian American Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, joined Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, to introduce S. 386 in the Senate. The bill also increases the per-country caps for family-sponsored green cards from 7 percent to 15 percent. Without adding any new green cards, S. 386 creates a “first-come, first-served” system that alleviates the backlogs and allows green cards to be awarded more efficiently, said Harris and Lee in a press statement.

“Immigrants should not be penalized due to their country of origin,” Lee said in a press statement. “Treating people fairly and equally is part of our founding creed and the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act reflects that belief.”

“We must do more to eliminate discriminatory backlogs and facilitate family unity so that high-skilled immigrants are not vulnerable to exploitation and can stay in the U.S. and continue to contribute to the economy,” said Harris.

The bill has broad support from both sides of the aisle in the Senate, and has been endorsed by pro-immigration groups, along with the technology industry.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents portions of Northern California’s Silicon Valley, and Ken Buck, R-Colorado, introduced the measure — HR 1044 — in the House. One hundred and twelve bipartisan members — including Indian American Reps. Ami Bera, D-California; Ro Khanna, D-California; Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington; and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois — are co-sponsors of the legislation.

“We all know that our immigration system is severely broken, and it has been broken for decades,” said Lofgren. “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.”

“Year after year, I have met with constituents who come here legally on work visas from India or China and face decades-long wait times for obtaining permanent residence,” said Buck.

“If we want to ensure America remains globally competitive, we need to ease the backlogs and leverage the talent and expertise of our high-skilled immigrants who help strengthen the U.S. economy and fill knowledge gaps in certain fields,” he said.

“The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act is a win-win for the American people,” said Aman Kapoor, co-founder and president of Immigration Voice, in the statement released by Lofgren and Buck.

“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.”

John Miano, a lawyer for the Center for Immigration Studies, which pushes for reduced immigration to the U.S., told the Mercury News that the proposed legislation would bring about “the most massive change in the history in immigration policy” and create a “train wreck” in America’s immigration system.

“The effect of the bill is to replace America’s system of diversity immigration with an India-first system,” Miano told the publication. “Because India has monopolized the H-1B system, it would take over the employment-based green card system as well. The long-term effect is that about 75 percent to 80 percent of employment-based green cards would go to India.”

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