House Passes Bill to Ease Visa Backlogs for Nationals of India and China

CQ reported that house lawmakers on Tuesday signed off on legislation that supporters say will spur economic growth by helping U.S. businesses hire highly skilled legal immigrants.

The bipartisan bill (HR 3012), which passed 389-15, would eliminate country-based caps on the number of employment visas issued annually and boost similar limits for immigrants sponsored by a spouse or relative in the United States. It would not increase the total annual admission numbers.

Bill sponsor Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, called the employment visa cap “the antithesis” of free-market principles. And Virginia Democrat James P. Moran, a cosponsor, said the measure’s enactment would fix “a real problem that today harms our nation’s competitiveness.”

Current «immigration» law (PL 101-649) 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 those admissions. But the system is beset by extensive backlogs, with some immigrants waiting decades to get work visas.

Applicants from India could face a 70-year wait for an employment-based visa because of restrictions limiting the number of visas issued by country of origin, according to the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy. A Chinese applicant has to wait about 20 years, and those from other countries face waiting periods of up to five years.

The legislation’s backers 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.

Those countries are subject to the same percentage cap as a much smaller country like Iceland, said Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “This makes no sense,” he said.

Cohen voiced frustration that the bill would not address the overall backlog because it lacks an increase in the total number of visas. But the legislation would at least “level the playing field,” he said, treating the workers in that backlog more equitably.

The bill also would raise the country-based cap on family visas from 7 percent to 15 percent of those admissions, which are limited to 226,000 each year. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee rejected Iowa Republican Steve King’s effort to remove that provision. King argued that an increase would not support the goal of bringing in uniquely qualified workers.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who leads the Judiciary panel responsible for «immigration issues, praised Tuesday’s House vote. “We will move the bill as quickly as possible in the Senate, where we expect it to find overwhelming support,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has introduced a measure (S 1857) similar to the House-passed bill.

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