On September 19, 2019, Congress tried and failed to eliminate the per-country limit for employment-based green cards. This latest effort, a bill known as the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (HR 1044) easily passed in the House 365-65, but stalled in the Senate where it has been blocked by Senator David Perdue (R-GA) who has placed a hold on the bill preventing a vote.

While there is consensus that the current per-country limit for the issuance of employment-based green cards is flawed, unfair and in need of an overhaul, how to achieve that is at the center of the Congressional debate.

What is the Per-Country Limit?

The per-country limit means that each country in the world receives only up to 7% of the 140,000 employment-based green cards available per year, or about 10,000 green cards per country. A similar limit applies for family-based green cards. Individuals born in India and China, who make up the largest number of employment-based green card applicants, are disproportionately affected by the per-country limit on employment-based green cards. For the two countries, there are well over 10,000 people currently eligible for green cards as direct or derivative beneficiaries, so demand greatly exceeds the 7% allocation every year.

The Source of the Congressional Debate

The number of individuals already stuck in the backlog and the interests of different industries make it virtually impossible to pass legislation that satisfies all stakeholders.

One proposal is to eliminate per-country limits in favor of country-blind first come first serve green card allocation without a change in the total number of green cards available. This is the main idea behind HR 1044. Under this proposal, thousands of Indian- and Chinese-born skilled workers stuck in the employment-based green card backlog would see a shorter line to apply for green cards, while individuals born in the rest of the world would in turn experience the same backlogs that Congress is seeking to eliminate. Variations of this proposal would eliminate the per-country limits in part, but still reserve a portion of green cards for individuals born in countries other than India or China until the backlog is mostly eliminated. Under all variations, in the long-term, country-specific backlogs would be eliminated but an overall backlog would still exist. This solution is criticized by those who would like to see the backlog completely eliminated and green cards issued to all those who meet eligibility requirements without a numerical cap.

An alternative proposal is to increase the number of employment-based green cards available overall and allocate them specifically to individuals born in India and China. Variations of this proposal revolve around whether the cap should be raised, or whether it should be eliminated entirely. This solution is not favored by those who want to limit overall immigration to the United States.

For now, Congress has not fully embraced any proposal, and debate continues.

Bottom line

Do not let the speculation around the possible outcome of Congress’ efforts to eliminate the per-country limit discourage or guide your efforts to gain permanent residence in the United States. It is business as usual for now and it is never too late to secure your place in line (priority date) under existing legislation.