Senate passes bill to drop country cap for green cards

Washington: The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill (referred to as S.386) or the ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act’, raising the hopes of thousands of Indians stuck for decades in a green card backlog.

The bill eliminates the 7% country cap for employment-based immigrant visas (green cards), which will help ease the massive backlog faced by Indians. In addition, it also increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from the current 7% of the total number of such visas available in a particular year to 15%, reports Times of India.

Senator Kevin Cramer, who presided over the Senate as this bi-partisan bill was passed, said in a series of tweets that because of the arbitrary per-country caps, the legal status of thousands of hard-working immigrants who bridge the gap between America’s workforce shortage and its immediate need for physicians, software developers, and other highly-skilled workers is constantly in jeopardy.

“The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act fixes that by – without increasing the number of employment-based visas – creating a more merit-based system that levels the playing field for high-skilled immigrants,” he tweeted. The employment‐based system has a cap of 140,000 green cards per year, which remains unchanged.

A study done by CATO Institute had pointed out that the employment based green card backlog from India (EB-2 and EB-3 skilled category) has reached 7.41 lakh in April 2020, with an expected wait time of 84 years.

However, the end of the road has not yet been reached. An earlier bill passed by the House of Representatives was significantly different. The two bills will need to be reconciled and a final bill passed. Then comes the issue of a signature from President Trump – there is a likelihood that this will be the stumbling block.

S.386, as passed by the Senate, sets down transition rules by reserving a percentage of EB-2 and EB-3 immigrant visas for those who are not from India and China (the two countries with the largest backlog in these categories) for the first nine years post enactment of the bill. EB-2 and EB-3 categories are employment based green cards allotted to skilled workers and their dependents. This transition has been built in to avoid Indians and Chinese dominating the allocation of green cards, once the country caps are lifted. The reservations will be higher in the initial years.

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