Yesterday was a momentous day for high-skilled immigrants in the U.S. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044) by a vote of 365 to 65. So, what does this mean today for high skilled immigrants and the companies that currently employ them? Until this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, it has no immediate effect. However, the message is loud and clear.
H.R. 1044 attempts to correct our outdated immigration laws that have left thousands of high skilled immigrant workers stuck in immigration purgatory. For example, if a U.S. company hires a highly skilled professional from India on an H-1B, even if that company would like to retain that professional on a permanent basis, depending on their level of education, the wait for a permanent visa could be decades, with some predictions averaging as high as 150 years, according to the Cato Institute. Aside from China, most other nationals would be able to obtain permanent residence immediately. However, nationals from India must wait literally a lifetime. This is a result of our immigration system that puts arbitrary visa caps on countries regardless of demand.
Our current law provides only 140,000 visas annually for employment-based legal permanent residents. Under the law, each country is allocated 7% of the world-wide level of employment-based visas. This is known as the per-country cap. While some countries like India and China are sending us many thousands of highly skilled workers, other countries barely come close to their 7% allocations. So, what happens to these unused visas? Nothing. This creates a backlog for countries, like India and China, which have a larger number of highly skilled intending immigrants. Today, the backlog for an Indian professional with a bachelor’s degree averages in the neighborhood of 65 years. Whatever happened to the U.S. attracting the best and the brightest? Do we really care what country they come from?
The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act would correct this by eliminating the per-country limitation on employment-based immigrants. This would be done in phases over three years so to prevent unintended backlogs for other countries. There are safeguards in the bill to protect intending immigrants who already have an approved visa petition from being penalized. Most importantly, the bill includes a provision to prevent unused visas from not being issued.
We can ask why the bill passed with such overwhelming bi-partisan support. Despite all of the ignorant and hateful rhetoric blasting in our ears from Breitbart, Center for Immigration “Studies”, and other xenophobic, propaganda- machines, reason has prevailed. The set of principles our country was founded upon remain intact. We are a country of immigrants. We are a country of free enterprise. And we are a country committed to attracting the best and the brightest, regardless of race, gender, or nationality.