Indians wait longer than other potential employment-based immigrants. That means reforms to America’s employer-sponsored immigration system are likely to help many Indians, as well other skilled professionals. There are several actions Congress or the executive branch can take that will reduce wait times and provide substantial relief to employers and skilled immigrants.
STEM Exemption for Skilled Immigrants
First, Congress can exempt from the green card quotas immigrants with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field. This provision has been included in past legislation by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and some others. Congress could expand this measure to go beyond only degrees in those fields or to include individuals who received a Ph.D. in a technical field from abroad. Research has shown those who receive their degree abroad arrive in the United States with substantial human capital, garnered without any U.S. expense, but also may be among the finest in their fields.
Count Only Principals, Not Dependents, Toward Annual Quota
Second, a new law could count only the principal employment-based immigrants, not their dependents, against the 140,000 annual employment-based quota. One reason for the large green card backlogs is that annual H-1B temporary visa quotas count only the principal recipient of an H-1B visa, whereas about half of the 140,000 quota for employment-based immigrant visas is utilized by the dependents (spouse and/or children) of the sponsored immigrant. In addition, Congress could raise the 140,000 annual quota to a higher level.
Utilize Unused Employment-Based Green Cards
Third, lawmakers could provide additional green card relief by including numbers previously allocated by Congress that were not utilized in prior years, such as due to agency processing delays. The State Department estimates there are more than 300,000 unused employment-based green cards allocated in previous years that have never gone to recipients due to administrative issues.
Eliminate the Per Country Limit
Fourth, Congress could eliminate the per country limit on employment-based immigrants. H.R. 3012 would accomplish this feat over a four-year period. The legislation passed the House and, at least for now, is being delayed by a “hold” on the legislation by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). Liberalizing rules for employment-based green cards is less controversial than other proposed immigration reforms, as evidenced by the overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives on H.R. 3012.
Allow Filing of Adjustment of Status Before Priority Date
Fifth, allow individuals to file for Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) prior to when his or her immigrant visa become available. Currently, skilled foreign nationals mired in the employment-based green card backlog are often not able to accept promotions or change jobs without the risk of starting their green card applications again. For those waiting a long time the fear of waiting even longer is significant. That would change if early filing of Adjustment of Status were permitted.
If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were to allow individuals waiting for green cards to file for Adjustment of Status even if their priority date has not been reached it would facilitate a more normal existence for those stuck in the green cad backlog. For example a spouse would likely become eligible to work legally in the United States. Also, it is likely the ability to travel in and out of America would become easier, helping people both personally and professionally.
Implementing any or all of the reforms recommended here would aid U.S. employers, immigrants and the American economy, keeping more talent and resources inside the country.