US Senate passes Bill eliminating per-country cap for employment-based immigrant visas

The legislation is likely to benefit hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals in America who have been waiting for years to get their green cards.

The US Senate has unanimously passed a Bill that eliminates the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas and raises it for family-based visas, a legislation that will hugely benefit hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals in America who have been waiting for years to get their green cards.

The passage of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act by the Senate on Wednesday comes as a big relief to Indian IT professionals who come to the US on H-1B work visas and their current waiting period for Green Card or permanent residency is running into decades.

Originally passed by the US House of Representatives on July 10, 2019 by a bipartisan 365 to 65 votes, the legislation increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from seven per cent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 per cent. It was sponsored by Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah in the Senate.

The legislation eliminates the seven per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas, a provision that will facilitate removal of the massive backlog of Indian IT professionals in the US. It also removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China. Because of arbitrary per-country caps, the legal status of Indian IT professionals was constantly in jeopardy.

In fiscal year 2019, Indian nationals received 9,008 category 1 (EB1), 2,908 category 2 (EB2), and 5,083 category 3 (EB3) Green Cards. EB1-3 are different categories of employment-based Green Cards.

In July, Senator Lee had told the Senate that the backlog for an Indian national to get permanent residency or Green Card is more than 195 years.

The new legislation also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY2020-FY2022, 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 not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas.

Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85% shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country. Running against time, the Senate on Wednesday moved the process very quickly. It was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent and soon thereafter it was considered by the full Senate. The Senate passed it quickly with unanimous consent.

Currently, there is a backlog of almost one million foreign nationals and accompanying family members lawfully residing in the US who have been approved for, and are waiting to receive, employment-based Green Cards. The largest number of them are from India.

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act creates a more merit-based system that levels the playing field for high-skilled immigrants, said Senator Kevin Cranmer, who worked to ensure that the legislation includes safeguards against fraud and abuse in the visa system.

The Senate passed the bill as Senator Cramer presided over the chamber. Immigration is often a contentious issue, but we should not delay progress where there is bipartisan consensus,” he said.


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