Out of the more than 300 million people residing in the United States, it is likely fewer than 1 percent realize highly skilled foreign nationals endure long waits for green cards. On the other hand, those aware of the long waits likely are personally affected, either because they or a family member are the ones waiting. For those waiting the longest for green cards, on a scale of 1 to 10 the issue is an off the charts “50.”
Sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), HR 3012, “The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” is a small bill by any standards. In recent years, various bills to change U.S. health care or immigration policy have reached lengths of 500 to 1,000 pages. In contrast, H.R. 3012 is barely 6 pages in length. Yet since it may have a legitimate chance of becoming law, it could have a bigger impact on people’s lives than bills 100 times greater in length. (A copy of H.R. 3012 can be found here.)
What Would the Bill Do?
After a transition lasting three years, HR 3012 would eliminate the per country limit for employment-based immigrants. Under the law, employment-based immigration is limited annually to 140,000. In addition, per country caps generally limit the number of employment-based immigrants to 7 percent of the total (except if immigrant visas would otherwise go unused). Because of their large populations, India and China are most negatively affected by these limits. As a result, highly educated Indian and Chinese nationals wait longer for employment-based green cards than their peers from other countries.
Under H.R. 3012, in fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014, no more than 85 percent of employment-based immigrant visas could go to nationals of one country. That was designed to prevent Indian nationals, who as a group have been waiting the longest, from potentially using up all the employment-based green cards. Still, Indian and Chinese nationals will be the greatest beneficiaries of the legislation.
The legislation would also increase the per country limit for family-sponsored immigrants to 15 percent (from the current 7 percent). That will primarily benefit nationals from Mexico and the Philippines, many waiting more than a decade in the sibling and adult children categories.
The bill is likely to shorten the wait times for Indians and Chinese in both the employment-based second preference (EB-2) and employment-based third preference (EB-3). A recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy (found here) concluded: “A key part of any solution to reducing wait times is to eliminate the per country limit for employment-based immigrants . . . Eliminating the per country limit would reduce the typical wait for Indians applying today in the EB-3 category from 70 to 12 years. While 12 years is still too long, it would be a welcome reform that would provide green cards for Indian and Chinese professionals waiting the longest in the EB-3 and EB-2 (employment second preference) categories and equalize the wait times in the EB-2 category at about two to three years without regard to country of origin (as opposed to potential waits of 6 years or more for Chinese and Indian nationals in the EB-2 category).”
The House Markup
For a bill to move forward in the legislative process it usually must be “marked up” in committee. In an October 27, 2011 House Judiciary Committee mark-up, H.R. 3012 passed by a voice vote. (That means it had sufficient support that no registered vote was deemed necessary.) Some amendments were ruled out of order and no significant amendments passed to change the core of the bill. The full transcript of the House markup can be found here.
The next step for the legislation is to be voted on by the entire House of Representatives. If the bill passes the House, it would then go to the US Senate. If H.R. 3012 passes the Senate, it would be the first bill to improve high-skill immigration to pass Congress in several years.