Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced identical legislation, which if passed would end the current per-country green card limit and benefit hundreds and thousands of STEM professionals waiting to gain permanent legal residency in the country. Top companies from Silicon Valley like Google and corporate bodies such as the U.S. Chambers of Commerce are backing the bills. If passed by Congress and signed into law, both bills would benefit a plethora of professionals on H-1B visas whose current wait time for permanent legal residency is more than a decade.

The H-1B visa, most sought-after among IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Having a Green Card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card) allows a person to live and work permanently in the United States. Some categories face a wait of many years, even decades, under the current system which imposes a country cap on people who get green cards. The United States currently makes 140,000 green cards available every year to employment-based immigrants, many of who first come here on temporary H-1B or L visas.

The existing law requires that no more than 7% of these green cards can go to nationals of any one country, even though some countries are more populous than others. Because of this 7% limit, for example, a Chinese or Indian post-graduate may have to wait half a decade or more for a green card, much longer than a student from a less-populated country. Mexico and the Philippines historically also have backlogs.

In the Senate, Republican Mike Lee and Democratic presidential aspirant Kamala Harris introduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (S281) on Wednesday, a bill that would remove per-country caps for employment-based green cards. Co-sponsored by 13 additional senators, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act also increases the per-country caps for family-sponsored green cards from 7% to 15%. Without adding any new green cards, it creates a "first-come, first-served" system that alleviates the backlogs and allows green cards to be awarded more efficiently.

The bill has also been endorsed by Immigration Voice, Compete America Coalition, the Information Technology Industry Council, Google, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, The Heritage Foundation, La Raza, and many others.

An identical bill -- Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (HR1044) -- was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Zoe Lofgren and Ken Buck, Chair and Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. The bill was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 112 Congressmen. Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act also altered the per-country limits for employment-based immigrants so that all are treated equally regardless of their country of birth.

Disclaimer: This is proposed legislation only and may not become law.

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