“Few ideas are more central to who we are as Americans than the notion that people should be judged based on their own merits as individuals and not on their race or nationality,” Senator Mike Lee, author of the Senate legislation, said on Thursday.
The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that eliminates the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas and raised it for family-based visas. The legislation will hugely benefit hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals in America who have been waiting for years to get their green cards.
“This legislation lives up to our founding principles by ending nationality discrimination in our nation’s employment-based green-card system. It also contains much-needed reforms to our H-1B visa system. American families should always be our top priority and this bill contains strong new protections for American workers,” Lee said.
The US House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act on July 10, 2019. Because of the difference between the two versions of the bill, the House and the Senate would have to reconcile the legislation and arrive at a common language, for the two chambers to formally pass it again. Thereafter the bill would be sent to the President to sign into a law.
According to the bill, 70 per cent of the total employment-based visas could go to H-1B workers after the bill’s enactment. That portion drops to 50 per cent after nine years. Currently there are 1.2 million applicants in line for green cards. It ends country of origin discrimination by eliminating annual country-of-origin caps on green-card visas without increasing the total number of green cards issued each year.
The bill forbids all employers with workforces consisting of more than 50 per cent temporary visa workers from sponsoring any new temporary visa workers. It close the B-1 temporary business visitor visa loophole used by many employers to avoid H-1B visa caps.
Among other things, the bill levies new fees on all H1-B applications that would be dedicated to investigating fraud in the H-1B system and prohibit the adjustment of status for any member of the Chinese Communist Party or People’s Liberation Army.
Florida Senator Rick Scott said the legislation would create more diversity by allowing more immigrants that do not possess an H1B visa the opportunity to receive a green card. It also places a cap on the total number of H-1B visas that may receive green cards each year.
This is extremely important to Florida and ensures diversity in the workforce that meets broad industry needs, while protecting American jobs. Any unused green cards at the end of the year can go towards alleviating the H-1B backlog. Protecting national security by ensuring no Chinese national with ties to the Communist Party of China or Chinese military can qualify for any adjustment of visa status, he said.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee and author of the original bill, welcomed the passage of the bill.
“While I recognise the sincerity of all members and senators struggling to find solutions, unfortunately the provisions sent to the House by the Senate yesterday most likely make matters worse, not better,” Lofgren said.
“I plan to swiftly and thoughtfully work with my colleagues to resolve outstanding issues and get a measure across the finish line that can pass both Houses of Congress,” she said.
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.
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.