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House Committee to Vote on Employment-Based Immigration Reform

October 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Under current law, no country can receive more than 7% of the total employment-based immigration visas made available worldwide. The cap ensures diversity in the employment-based immigration community, but it also means that workers in big countries, like India and China, who American tech firms might want to hire, have very little chance of actually securing a visa.

The House Judiciary Committee this afternoon is holding a mark-up of the first major immigration reform bill of this session, and it’s designed to address this issue. The “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” introduced recently by Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R, UT-3], would remove the per-country immigration caps to make it easier for U.S. companies to hire foreign workers.

This article from the Duanne Morris law firm, which I found through the aggregated news/blog coverage on the OC bill page, has a good summary:

As of right now, the Immigration and Nationality Act allows for only 140,000 employment-based visas to be allocated each year.  At present, the percentage of visas that can be allocated to any one country is capped  at  7% percent of all of the employment-based visas available.  Underthe Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, , the per-country limit on employment-based visas would be eliminated by 2015 after a 3 year phase-in period.  During the 3 year transition, the vast majority of Employment Based visas would be allocated to Indian and Chinese nationals in order to eliminate the current backlogs. In FY 2012, Indian and Chinese nationals would receive 85% of the visa allocation. In FY 2013 and FY 2014  they would receive 90% of the visa allocations.

H.R. 3012 also  increases from 7% to  15%  percent the total number of available visas regarding per-country restrictions for family-based immigrants. This would greatly reduce long backlogs for nationals from Mexico and the Philippines who often wait more than 10 years for a green card to become available.

The bill is co-sponsored by the Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith [R, TX-21], so it should have no problem getting through the committee today and onto the House floor. If it gets a vote in the House, it’s likely to pass. Prospects in the Senate are less certain. The Democrats, who control the Senate, still want to do comprehensive immigration reform, including a plan for addressing issues of undocumented immigration. Passing this bill separately could mean they would have less leverage with Republicans for passing a comprehensive bill down the line.

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