Seyfarth Synopsis: Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed on the Suspension Calendar, by the bipartisan vote of 365-65, the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019,” H. R. 1044, which would eliminate the existing “per country” quotas for employment-based immigrants. The Suspension Calendar is a procedure unique to the House and is reserved for bills for which there is broad support, no amendments can be offered and a 2/3 majority is needed to pass.
Currently those quotas set a cap of 7% per country of the total amount of employment-based green cards issued annually by the United States. As one employer-based coalition put it, “This means that India and China, which account for over 40% of the world’s population are allowed the same number of visas as Greenland, a country that accounts for 0.001% of the world’s population.”
Obviously, this creates huge backlogs for immigrants originating from countries for which there are there are high numbers of pending green card petitions. This illogical situation particularly adversely affects companies who are currently employing high skilled workers now here working on H-1B petitions from India and China who have applied for permanent residency. That wait can be for decades, deterring these individuals from coming to work in the United States in the first place.
There are certain transition provisions provided for the EB-2, EB-3 and EB-5 visa categories. Protections to ensure every visa allocated during FY 20, FY 21 and FY 22 will be used are provided for the EB-2 and EB-3 categories; extending the same protections to EB-5 will ensure a smoother transition under the legislation.
The official summary of the legislation notes: “The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY2020 – FY2022, by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas. Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85% shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country.”The bill also adjusts the family-based cap from 7% to 15%.
The broad bipartisan support for H.R. 1044, in an immigration policy world more often typified by partisan bickering and lack of agreement, is telling, indicates the merit of the underlying legislation and also tells us that, on occasion, Congress can step up to the plate and find a solution to a problem. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, S. 386. However, Senator. Grassley is threatening to amend that legislation with numerous provisions adverse to the business community which would threaten the workability of the current process by which H-1B workers are recruited. Whether these amendments will be successful and kill the chances of the House and Senate bills being reconciled and worked out in conference or otherwise passed into final legislation and sent to the president remains to be seen. We will keep you posted!