The U.S. House of Representatives voted July 10 to eliminate limits on the percentage of employment-based permanent residency work visas (green cards) awarded to immigrants from any one country.
The measure would apply to two types of work visas – EB-2 visas, for workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability and EB-3 visas, for skilled workers and professionals.
Sponsors hope the bill would relieve backlogs of skilled workers seeking permanent U.S. work permits.
Visa issues worsen skilled labor shortage
Supporters of the measure say that backlogs for skilled workers seeking permanent work visas – which can stretch decades – are making the skilled labor shortage worse and hurting American companies’ competitiveness.
Supporters of the bill include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
SHRM issued a press release saying, “Eliminating employment per-country caps will create a first-come, first-served green card system, putting talent and skills first so we can meet the current and future workforce needs of this country.”
The industry group called the measure “an important first step in addressing workplace immigration issues.”
Tech companies are also backing the measure, since they employ a huge number of H-1B visa workers, whose permits last just six years.
Each year, hundreds are forced to leave the U.S. and their jobs when temporary work permits expire.
Employers say that the turnover, especially among highly-skilled tech workers, is costly and disruptive.
Opponents fear impact on American workers
The bill has widespread backing from business groups and bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
Still, the measure is not guaranteed to pass the Senate and get to President Trump’s desk or to get his signature if it does.
Opponents, including members of the administration, see the measure hurting American workers.
Others worry that if per-country limits on the number of green cards are lifted, almost all residency permits will go to workers and family members from India and China, where the backlog is highest.
And that seems to be guaranteed under the current version of the bill.
Quotas now limit the number of visas awarded to immigrants from any one country to 7% of the 140,000 employment-based residency permits issued each year.
Indian workers would get nearly all green cards after 2020
The bill would increase that to 85% of green cards going to Chinese and Indian skilled workers and their families in 2020, with the remainder reserved for workers from all other countries.
In 2021 and 2022, the percentage of green cards going to countries other than India and China would drop to just 10% of the total.
Because of the huge number of Indians awaiting green cards, they would obtain the vast majority of permanent visas for about a decade.
If signed into law, the quota changes would apply as of October 1, at the start of the government’s fiscal year 2020.