USA: Key Congressional committee passes bill to eliminate per country cap on Green Card

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Washington: A key US Congressional committee has passed a legislation to eliminate the per-country cap on issuing of Green Card on employment-based immigrant visas and to increase the per-country cap for family-based immigrant visas from seven per cent to 15 per cent, a move which will benefit Indian IT professionals languishing over decades of waiting for the Permanent Resident Card.

A Green Card, known officially as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants as evidence that the bearer has been granted the privilege of residing permanently in the US.

The legislative move, when it is finally signed into law, would greatly benefit the immigrants from India and China, from where hundreds and thousands of employment-based category people are currently having decades-long wait for their green cards or permanent legal residency.

After hours of debate, the powerful House Judiciary Committee late Wednesday night passed the HR3648 or the Equal Access to green cards for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act on the party lines of 22-14 votes.

The bill now goes to the House for debate and voting. It also needs to be passed by the US Senate before it can be sent to the White House for the President (Joe Biden) to sign into law.

“What happens is, because of the way we set this system up, people who are equally qualified — in some cases, more qualified — are falling behind people just because of their country of birth. That's not merit-based. That's not the opportunity society that America is,” said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren in her remarks during the discussion in the House Judiciary Committee.

Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and come to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card.

As per the vote by the House Judiciary Committee Vote, the bill eliminates per-country caps on employment-based immigrant visas and raises per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas from 7 per cent to 15 per cent.

The bill further outlines a nine-year transition period for the elimination of the per-country limit on EB-2 and EB-3 employment-based visa categories. It would reserve visas for countries other than India and China from 30 per cent of visas in the first fiscal year to five per cent of visas in the seventh, eighth and ninth year.

Additionally, for the first nine fiscal years after the bill's enactment, the bill would reserve an additional 5.57 per cent of EB-2 and EB-3 visas from countries other than India and China, to be allocated to derivatives of principal visa applicants accompanying or following the principal applicant to the US, new principal applicants who have not lived in the US in the four years before filing the visa petition, and other new arrivals, proponents of the bill said.

For the first seven years, the bill also reserves 4,400 EB-3 visas for individuals who will work in shortage occupations, including nurses and physical therapists. Under the bill, for the first nine fiscal years, no country would be permitted to receive more than 25 per cent of reserved visas and no more than 85 per cent of unreserved visas, a fact sheet of the bill said.

Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill said that such a move would increase immigration from China at a time of heightened tensions with them.

“The last thing we ought to be doing right now is removing country caps, which just provides additional green cards to Chinese nationals at a time when the Chinese Communist Party is stealing our intellectual property,” Republican Congressman Steve Chabot said.

According to the bill, jobs cannot be advertised as “only available to H-1B workers” and H-1B workers cannot be given a preference over US Citizens. It says that any company with 50 or more employees cannot have more than 50% of their employees on work visas such as H-1B, and L-1 visas. This ensures that all the outsourcing companies will have to hire American workers to operate because these companies have more than 50 per cent of the employees on H-1B and L-1 visas.

Over the years, starting with the High Skilled Per Country Level Elimination Act in 2008, the bill has been introduced in the US Congress in various ways, however, none of them has been able to see the light of the day so far. PTI

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