Green Card Bill That Favours Indian Techies May Get Green Signal
WASHINGTON: US lawmakers took another shot at removing the per-country limit on green cards, a cap that disadvantages immigrants from populous countries such as India and China while giving people from other parts of the world an easier shot at US permanent residency.
In a bipartisan move that has backing from majority lawmakers from both parties and therefore has a good chance to become law, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (Democrat from California and Ken Buck (Republican from Iowa) moved a new version of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044 - previously known as H.R. 392). The legislation is backed in the Senate by Kamala Harris (Democrat from California and Mike Lee (Republican from Utah).
Similar to past version of the bill that was scuppered by powerful lawmakers despite having majority support in Congress, the bill will eliminate the per-country limit on employment-based permanent residency, currently set at seven per cent. Because current law limits employment-based green cards to 140,000 annually, no more than 9,800 people from any one country can get permanent US residency.
This effectively means Chinese and Indians, who form bulk of the high-skilled immigrants to the US, get only 9,800 green cards annually, resulting in a huge backlog of applicants that some surveys say will take decades to clear. In contrast, aspiring immigrants from less populous countries, say Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, or Iran to take random examples, have a greater chance of securing a green card because they are fewer in number in the US.
In fact, the proposed bill has already caused consternation among prospective immigrants from other countries who see it as tilted in favour of India, which sends the highest number of skilled guest workers to the US on H-1B and L visas.
"We continue to have strong concerns about the impacts of this proposal and are committed to ensuring that the visa and green card process is equitable for Iranians and will advocate accordingly," the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) which lobbied against the bill when it was first introduced in 2018, said on Thursday, arguing that "given the combination of the Muslim Ban and the community's reliance on single-entry visas, (the bill) would have a hugely negative impact on Iranian nationals in the United States."
Organisations such as the American Hospitals Association also opposed the bill, because it would slow down permanent residency for immigrants from countries such as Philippines and Sri Lanka, which send a large number of nurses to the US, and would favour skilled guest workers from India, who dominate the technology space. Because nurses are not eligible for H-1B visas, the association feels that the health care sector will be shortchanged.
The bill is backed by US tech companies such as Microsoft and IBM, for whom it will become easier to hire Indian tech workers, particularly those graduating from US universities, some of whom go back to India rather than jump through the H-1B hoops leading to long waits in a backed-up green card regime.
By some accounts, about 90 per cent of the green card backlog is made up of Indian immigrants who prefer to stay back in the US far more than Chinese professionals. Immigration experts say if the HR 1044 becomes law, Indians would snag a majority of green cards, the same way they get a majority of H-1B visas. According to USCIS, as of April 2018, more than 300,000 Indian professionals are in the green card backlog in the technology space alone.
The prospect of this tech army getting a leg up in the green card process has caused much heartburn in some sections resulting in some vicious trolling on social media. A twitter handle calling itself @stopHR1044 complained about how the bill "which would pave the way of an Indian takeover of the employment based GC," while asking US lawmakers to "stop the sellout".
But legislators who are pushing for reform, including Utah Republican Mike Lee who has to navigate the bill past Senate roadblocks, argue that immigrants should not be penalized due to their country of origin.
"We all know that our immigration system is severely broken, and it has been broken for decades," said Congresswoman Zoe 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 US employers from accessing and retaining the employees they need to stay competitive".