Titled the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act, the Bill was passed by the 435-member House by an overwhelming majority of 365-65 votes.
As per the present system, out of the total number of family-based immigrant visas to be given by the US in a particular year, the people of a country can be given a maximum of seven percent of such visas. The new Bill seeks to increase this seven percent per-country limit to 15 percent.
Similarly, it also seeks to eliminate the seven percent per-country cap on employment-based immigrant visas. Additionally, it removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.
The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY 2020-22 by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers) and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals from other than the two countries that get the largest number of such visas.
As per another provision of the Bill, not more than 85 percent of the unreserved visas, would be allotted to immigrants from any single country.
Before it can be signed into law by the US president, the Bill, however, has to be passed by the Senate.
An identical bill sponsored by Senators Kamala Harris and Mike Lee are likely to be taken up soon. The Senate bill currently has 34 co-sponsors.
Congressman John Curtis, speaking on the floor of the House, said the Bill will create a first-come, first-served system providing certainty to workers and families and enabling the US companies to flourish and compete in a global economy as they hire the brightest people to create products, services, and jobs, regardless of where they were born.
If President Donald Trump “is serious about merit-based legal immigration, he should help usher this bill into law,” said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
The Department of Homeland Security, however, has said it does not support the Bill.
“This bill would do nothing to move the current employment-sponsored system toward a more merit-based system,” said Joseph S Joh, Assistant Director and Senior Advisor in the Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Homeland Security.
Top American IT companies welcomed the passage of the bill and urged the Senate to pass it at the earliest.
The 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, 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.”
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. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill 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.