A bill that seeks to lift certain restrictions on visas for highly-skilled immigrant workers met with substantial bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, but has stalled in the Senate. It has also generated controversy among immigrants, some of whom worry it will lead to favoring of certain countries over others. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act passed the House by a vote of 389 to 15 in November. In the Senate, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa held it up with various amendments after raising concerns about its effect on the availability of jobs for workers already present in the U.S. The main issue raised by the bill is its effect on visa applicants, who face varied waiting periods based on their home countries.
The United States grants 140,000 employment-based visas each year, and immigration officials cannot give more than seven percent of the total number of visas to applicants from any one country. This applies regardless of the total population of the country or the total number of applications received from that country. Prospective immigrants from countries that have few total applicants, therefore, may only have to wait a short while to get a visa. Applicants from high-volume, often referred to as “oversubscribed,” countries may encounter a waiting period lasting years. High-population, high-volume countries like the Philippines and India have exceptionally long waiting periods.
The new bill does not increase the total number of authorized visas, but it does remove the per-country quota of seven percent. Under the new law, visas would be granted essentially on a first-come, first-served basis. This would help many immigrants currently in the United States who are living in a sort of limbo, but it could also increase wait times for other applicants.
Many immigrants currently live in the United States on temporary worker visas and are waiting for a decision on an employment-based visa application. The employment-based visa offers a way to obtain legal permanent residence, commonly known as a green card. Permanent residents may eventually apply to become United States citizens. People who are here on temporary workers visas, however, are very limited in their options. They cannot change jobs, and visa restrictions make it difficult to plan for the future. They must renew their visas every two years. For immigrants from high-volume countries, who might wait years for a decision on a green card, this places them in a sort of “twilight zone.” A removal of the seven percent limit could significantly speed up the review of their applications.
People from countries with a lower volume of applicants are less enthusiastic about the bill. Applicants who might have expected a wait time of several months could find their applications overwhelmed by applications from high-volume countries. Rather than streamline the process of reviewing employment visas for everyone, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act could simply shift the burden from applicants of one country to applicants of another.
The New York immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.
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USCIS Plans to Expand Its “Self Check” Program Nationwide, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 29, 2011
New Bill Proposes Helping Indonesians Remain Legally in New Jersey, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 13, 2011
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