December 1, 2011 § 3 Comments
The House of Representatives passed a bill that made a minor adjustment to the visa system to allow more highly skilled immigrants from India and China to become legal permanent residents. The bill was passed through by a vote of 389 to 15. Sponsors were several Democrats who are outspoken liberals on immigration. The bill does not address illegal immigration and it does not add any new visas to the system, which many Republicans are reluctant to do.
The bill seemed likely to pass easily in the Senate. The main impact will be to reduce visa backlogs, for example, some Indians having science or technology skills who were approved recently for permanent residency (green card) have to face waits of 70 years before they would actually receive the documents. The bill eliminates restrictions on the number of green cards based on employment that is made available annually to each country. At present, there are 140,000 green cards available every year for immigrants based on their job skills, with each country limited to 7 percent of those visas. Per the bill, after a three-year transition, all employment-based green cards will be issued on a first-come-first-served basis, without any country limits.
The legislation also includes a measure that will more than double the green cards based on family ties available for Mexicans and Filipinos, the two countries facing the longest backlogs on the family side of the system. It raises the limit for 226,000 family green cards each year to 15 percent from the current 7 percent.
The main beneficiaries will be highly skilled immigrants from India and China, including many with master’s degrees and doctorates in science and engineering. Because they come from populous countries that send many people to work here who have advanced science and technology skills, immigrants from those two countries had been forced by the country limits into lines that were many years long and growing much longer.
Indians and Chinese who will now receive their green cards more quickly have been working in the US for years on temporary visas. The immigrants and their employers have passed labor market tests showing that qualified Americans were not available for jobs they hold.
American technology companies have been clamoring to offer more green cards for their foreign employees, arguing that the US was losing out in global competition by forcing those immigrants to leave. Some countries will lose under the legislation. During the next three years, many more employment green cards will be set aside for Indians and Chinese than for others languishing in backlogs, particularly Filipinos and South Koreans. And because the law would add no new visas, backlogs would be redistributed but not eliminated. The wait in the most severely clogged employment visa categories will even out over time to 12 years for all countries.