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Bill Eases Green Card Wait for Some Countries

There is both good news and bad news in the immigration bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives last November 29.

Because the bill seeks to eliminate per-country quotas for the employment-based categories and increase quotas for family-based applicants, but without adding new visas, a few countries will have shorter waiting times for a green card while other countries will see an increase in visa backlogs.

The bill, called the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, was sponsored by Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah along with known immigration hardliner Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. It is on its way to the U.S. Senate and, once passed, President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

Current law places an annual visa cap of 140,000 for employment-based categories and 226,000 for family-based categories, and only 7% of that total number can be allocated to nationals of each country.

The bill will benefit employment-based applicants from India and China. Under the EB-3 category, the December 2011 cut-off dates are September 8, 2004 for China (April 22, 2003 for EB-3 Other Workers) and August 1, 2002 for India (July 22, 2002 for EB-3 Other Workers). For the EB-2 category, the cut-off date is March 15, 2008 for both countries. Their cut-off dates will significantly advance if the bill becomes law.

Since the bill does not create new visas, retrogression will worsen for other countries. The Philippines and the rest of the world will experience further retrogression in the EB-3 category, where the cut-off currently is January 15, 2006 (January 1, 2006 for Other Workers).

And although visa numbers are currently available to all countries other than India and China in the EB-2 category, their nationals would have to wait longer for a green card as a result of the bill.

By 2015, there would definitely be backlogs for all countries in both employment-based categories because under the bill there will only be one waiting line, and one cut-off date, for each category for all countries.

On the other hand, Filipinos and Mexicans stand to benefit from the changes in the family-based preferences. The 7% per-country cap will be raised to 15%, which could result in further retrogression for other countries. As more visas become available, the wait for a green card becomes shorter for many Filipino and Mexican families.

The need to attract talent and maintain competitiveness is the main reason behind the bill. Businesses that hire highly educated and skilled workers, particularly in science and technology, have been asking the government to ease the wait for employment-based green cards.

A significant number of employer-sponsored immigrants come from China and India but because of the annual cap and per-country limits their visa backlogs are larger. For example, according to a study an Indian professional sponsored for an EB-3 visa today would actually have to wait 70 years to get a green card because of the sheer number of visa applicants from India.

Not surprisingly, critics of the bill say that fairness to highly-skilled workers from China and India is unfairness to highly-skilled workers from other countries. By replacing one backlog with another, the bill is perceived to be favoring Chinese and Indian nationals at the expense of nationals of other countries.

It remains to be seen if Congress will at least make more visas available instead of just reallocating them. The real solution is comprehensive immigration reform but, given the current political climate, it seems unrealistic to expect one to be passed in the near future.

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