House Panel Backs Lifting Visa Quotas

CQ reported that a House panel advanced a measure on Thursday that proponents say will foster economic growth by helping U.S. businesses hire highly skilled legal immigrants. The bipartisan bill (HR 3012) would eliminate country-based caps on the number of employment visas issued annually and raise similar limits for immigrants sponsored by a spouse or relative in the United States. The Judiciary Committee approved the proposal by voice vote. Bill sponsor Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, touted the legislation as “pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-family.” Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Zoe Lofgren of California, the top Democrat on the panel’s immigration» subcommittee, also back the bill. Existing «immigration law (PL 82-414) sets a limit of 140,000 visas annually for employment-based legal permanent residents and specifies that, each year, any given country be held to a numerical limit of 7 percent of total U.S. immigrant admissions. But the system is plagued by large backlogs, with some immigrants waiting decades to get work visas. According to the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy, applicants from India face a 70-year wait for an employment-based visa because of restrictions limiting the number of visas issued by country of origin. A Chinese applicant has to wait about 20 years, and those from other countries should brace for waits of at least five years. Supporters of the bill say lifting the country-based percentage cap will help ease the gridlock for countries with a large number of highly skilled applicants, such as India and China, by allowing those workers to move closer to the head of the line. The bill would not increase the total annual admission numbers. “Because of these annual numerical caps on green cards and the fact that some countries have more of the skilled workers that American employers want, natives of these countries must often wait years longer for green cards than natives of other countries,” Smith said. “Why should American employers who seek green cards for skilled foreign workers have to wait longer just because the workers are from India or China?” On Thursday, the committee set aside a Steve King, R-Iowa, amendment to eliminate a preference for employment-based visas for certain unskilled workers. King argued against encouraging unskilled immigrants to come to the United States to work, suggesting it would harm employment opportunities for the large number of unskilled U.S. workers. King’s amendment was ruled non-germane because it fell outside the scope of the underlying legislation. Also ruled non-germane was a Lofgren proposal to allow the issuance of visas equal to the number of previously issued employment- and family-based visas that went unused because of bureaucratic delays. Family Visas Also Thursday, the committee rejected, 6-23, an effort by King to remove a provision in the bill that would raise the country-based cap on family visas from 7 percent to 15 percent of admissions. King argued the increase would not support the goal of bringing in uniquely qualified workers, but rather would serve only to satisfy “liberals who want to open our borders.” But Chaffetz noted that the increase deals only with the percentage of immigrants from particular countries and would not alter the total number of visas issued. The Judiciary panel also fended off King’s proposal to repeal a preference to issue visas to brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. The amendment seeks to reduce the number of immigrants brought to the United States through family reunification, King said. “When you go into brothers and sisters it just is out of control,” he said. The amendment was ruled not germane.

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