US has a new Green Card law: Here’s what it means for desis

A new law passed by the lower house of the US Senate aims to remove the per-country limit of seven per cent for Green Card applicants.

The bill titled ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019’ or ‘HR 1044’ was passed on Wednesday, July 10, by an overwhelming majority of 365-65 votes in the US House of Representatives.

Migrant workers and American corporations have applauded the move, urging the administration to speed up the process and sign it into law. The bill is still pending passage in the Senate and final ratification from the President.

How will the bill change the current immigration policy?

Once enacted, the legislation could potentially end the long waiting period for skilled workers from countries like India who seek permanent residency in the US.

It stands to raise the per-country cap on family-sponsored immigrant visas from seven per cent to 15% (of the total number of such visas available that year). It will also effectively eliminate the seven per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas.

Furthermore, the bill establishes transition rules for employment-based visas 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 from all but the two countries already receiving the highest number of employment-based visas, Livemint reported.

Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85% shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country, Congressional Research Service (CRS) said.

How do Indian workers benefit from it?

Green Card allows a non-US citizen to live and work permanently in America. Lawful permanent residents, a.k.a Green Card holders, are immigrants under the Immigration and Nationality Act, with rights, benefits, and privileges to reside in the US permanently. 

Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and migrate to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the existing policy that leaves tens of thousands awaiting their Green Card for decades. Recent studies have shown that the waiting period for Indian IT professionals on H-1B visas can even extend to more than 70 years.

So Indians employed in the US are among those who will benefit the most from the prospective law.

Congressman John Curtis, speaking on House floor, said the bill will create a first come, first served system that offers certainty to workers and their families. It would also enable US companies to flourish and compete in a global economy, making it easier to hire the brightest people to create products, services, and jobs, regardless of their nationality.

Responses to the new Green Card law

The passage of the bill was welcomed by Indian professionals from across the country, especially by Silicon Valley workers and those abounding in Seattle, Greater Washington DC, and the tri-State areas of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

American IT companies also appreciated the overwhelming support for the bill, calling it a refreshing breather from the White House’s increasingly protectionist and anti-immigration policies.

“Today, the US House passed legislation to ensure people from all countries are treated the same in the Green Card process. This promotes a fair high-skilled immigration system that’s good for business and our economy,” Microsoft president Brad Smith was quoted as saying.

But whether the bill will garner the votes required for passage in the Senate remains to be seen, as the upper house is dominated by the Republican party that rallies chiefly around President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda.

Nonetheless, a similar bipartisan bill is also slated to be tabled in the Senate by a group of lawmakers that includes Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris.

Todd Schulte, a Silicon Valley advocate, thinks that “this bill will help ensure that those seeking permanent residency will not have to face extraordinary wait times—projected at 50 years or more for people from countries like India and China—simply because of their country of origin.”

“Eliminating ‘per-country’ caps for employment-based Green Card and raising caps for family-based Green Card will make the system fairer for immigrant families while also strengthening United States’ ability to recruit and retain top global talent by establishing a fair and predictable path to permanent legal status,” he was quoted as saying by the PTI.

One for Kuchibhotla and others like him

The bill was championed by Sunayana Dumala, the wife of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla who was shot dead in a Kansas bar shooting. She said it was an important day and “a moment we have been waiting for years. Finally, our hard work and tireless efforts have come to fruition,” according to a report by The Kansas City Star.

After her husband’s death in a hate crime, Sunayana found she had lost her status to reside in the US which is when she decided to protest for immigrant workers and their families’ rights. She subsequently made multiple trips to the political capital to advocate for the legislation.

“After the tragic murder of my husband … the immigration struggle took over my grief,” Dumala said in a statement on Wednesday. “And today, with HR 1044 getting passed, I can finally find peace and no words can express my happiness,” she said.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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