In a move long-awaited by the Indian American community, the House July 10 afternoon passed H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which eliminates the per-country cap for employment-based visas.
The bill — co-sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents Northern California’s Silicon Valley; and Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colorado — passed with a bi-partisan vote. A total of 224 Democrats and 120 Republicans voted yes on the measure, which must now pass the Senate. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill — S. 386 — which has 34 co-sponsors, including Indian American Sen. Kamala Harris. The bill was submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 9.
Immigration Voice, an organization of highly-skilled Indian American workers which has long advocated for the removal of per-country caps, hailed the passage of the bill in the House. “We are incredibly grateful to Chairwoman Lofgren who has been championing this bill since 2008 and Ranking Member Ken Buck who has been a champion of this commonsense bill since he first heard of it,” said the organization in a statement, terming the per-country caps “de facto national origin discrimination.”
Skilled Immigrants in America, another Indian American organization advocating for the reform of the green card process, urged people to call their Senate members to get the measure passed. The organization noted that the Senate bill has more amendments and less support than in the House.
Currently, Indian Americans on H-1B visas are averaging wait times of 70 years before getting their green cards; their H-4 dependent spouses must also endure the wait. Children term out of H-4 dependent status once they turn 18, and must either return to India, or find alternate means to remain in the country.
The lengthy wait times are due to a provision that limits individual countries to only 7 percent of employment-based green cards available in a year. More than 1.3 million Indian nationals with approved green card applications are currently in the queue, but fewer than 10,000 employment-based green cards can be allotted to individuals from India each year.
The new bill would eliminate the per-country cap, and allocate green cards on a “first come, first served basis,” over a 3-year phase-in period: during year one, no more than 85 percent of employment-based visas may be allocated to India or China; in years two and three, no more than 90 percent of employment-based visas may be allocated to India or China.
Also during this period, a safety provision would prevent visas from going unused, noted Lofgren’s office.
The measure would also increase the per-country limit on family-based visas from 7 percent to 15 percent.
Watch House vote here:
“In order for American industries to remain competitive and create more jobs, they must be able to recruit and retain the best talent in the world. This becomes increasingly difficult when workers from high-population countries must compete for the same limited number of visas as workers from low population countries,” said Lofgren, chair of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, in a press statement after the bill was passed.
“Our bipartisan bill would phase-in a visa system where the applicant’s nationality is irrelevant, providing relief to individuals who’ve waited patiently for a green card for years, if not decades, while they continue to work and contribute to our economy,” she said.
Buck, ranking member of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, said in a press statement: “It’s time 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.”
“These are people who have helped America grow and thrive as a nation of immigrants and we need to make sure our system continues to value those who are following our laws and doing the right thing,” he said.
Three Indian American members of Congress offered their support for the bill before the vote was taken. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from Northern California, whose district sits on the edge of the Silicon Valley said: “Put simply, this bill is good for American workers and it's good for the American economy. For too long people in this country have been unable to get a green card simply based on where they were born. As a result, people have been stuck on visas and we all know that foreign outsourcing firms have abused these visas.”
Khanna said that outsourcing firms were “underpaying people stuck on these visas. It's depressing American wages and it's hurting American workers.”
“The solution is to stop corporations from abusing the visa system and to move people on to green cards. Once we do that, American wages will go up. These companies will no longer be able to hold people in indentured servitude and force American workers to have cuts in their wages,” said Khanna.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, also spoke in favor of the measure.
“This legislation ensures that all high-skilled visa applicants have an equal opportunity to contribute to American economic development, regardless of their country of birth,” he said, noting that foreign workers stuck in the green card queue nevertheless pay taxes.
“This legislation helps keep families together and it helps American businesses retain top talent, growing and making them more prosperous,” he said.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, noted the backlogs of more than 70 years. “These long backlogs are a result of our broken, outdated immigration system,” she stated, noting that — despite the high demand for employment-based green cards — the system has not been updated in nearly 30 years.
“This bill solves one piece, by making sure our colleagues and our neighbors who have been working in our tech sector and our hospitals, innovating in our communities, can stay with a road map to citizenship.”
Jayapal advocated for overall comprehensive immigration reform. “We cannot tolerate the fact that we have no orderly functioning process for people to come to America, whether it be for family unity, to bring their talents to our economy, to serve the needs of our economy, or to seek safety.”