Legislation introduced in the House and Senate this month would eliminate the seven percent per-country limit on employment-based green cards. Called the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” the joint legislation also increases the per-country cap for family-sponsored green cards from seven to 15 percent.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren and 113 other representatives from both parties sponsored the bill in the House. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California and 14 other senators introduced the bill in the Senate. Employers and immigration groups have endorsed the legislation.
What is the Per-Country Cap?
U.S. immigration law limits the number of employment-based green cards issued each year at 140,000. The law also caps the number of green cards issued to the citizens of each country at 7%—or 9,800—annually. Known as the “per-country cap” or “per-country ceiling,” it was designed to maximize the diversity of immigrants that permanently live and work in the U.S.
However, the cap has hurt foreign nationals particularly from India, as well as China. Individuals from India and China face years-long—and sometimes decades-long—waits for a green card number to become available. The Cato Institute reported last year that citizens of India face a 151-year wait to transition from an EB-2 visa to a green card.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently issued a report outlining the pros and cons of ending the per-country limit on employment-based green cards.
Pros and Cons
Proponents argue that eliminating the per-country ceiling would increase the flow of high-skilled immigrants without increasing the total annual admission.
Moreover, employers argue they need to hire the best and brightest skilled workers to remain innovative and globally competitive. Proponents of increasing employment-based immigration levels argue that it is vital for economic growth.
Opponents of eliminating the per-country cap argue that foreign workers negatively impacts the wages and working conditions in the U.S. Opponents also assert that many foreign nationals waiting for employment-based green cards are already working in the U.S. on temporary visas, which provides an incentive for employers to continue to recruit foreign nationals for temporary employment. That, they say, can lead to the exploitation of foreign workers who are waiting to acquire green cards.
Congress should remove the per-country cap to create a market-based approach to immigration. The caps have a racist effect against people from countries with high levels of immigration.
Ideally, our system would involve the creation of a government department similar to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that can set annual immigration levels and prioritize visas and green cards for workers based on the state of the economy and projected labor needs.
Immigration policy should be nimble and flexible to accommodate changing market conditions and labor demands to support and spur innovation.
The Alcorn Immigration Law team knows immigration leads to innovation. We can determine the best strategies for you, your family or your employees to live and work in the U.S. Reach out to us for a consultation.