The Senate passed a controversial immigration bill by unanimous consent on Dec. 3, which, if signed into law by President Donald Trump, will raise or remove country caps on employment-based and family-based green cards—while leaving their overall number unchanged.
Supporters say the move establishes a more meritorious system, while opponents argue it threatens to displace highly skilled U.S. workers.
The Senate bill, called S386, or the "Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act," is a modified version of an earlier House bill called HR1044. The Senate bill increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from 7 percent of the total number of such visas available in a given year—currently 480,000—to 15 percent. It also eliminates entirely the 7 percent cap for employment-based immigrant visas, currently numbering 140,000 per year.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and spearheaded by co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
The bill establishes a more merit-based system that "levels the playing field" and will help meet the demand for highly skilled immigrant workers, supporters argue.
"North Dakota is home to thousands of hard-working immigrants who bridge the gap between our workforce shortage and our immediate need for physicians, software developers, and other highly-skilled workers," Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Republican lawmaker who backed the bill, wrote in a tweet.
"Without these individuals, important services would be unavailable in many parts of our state; but because of arbitrary per-country caps, their legal status 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."
While he didn't specify which group of highly skilled workers he was referring to, the issue of a massive backlog of workers from India has been widely reported. There are over 800,000 Indians in line for an employment-based green card as of April 2020, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data, as cited by Economic Times.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a right-leaning think tank, wrote in a tweet that the measure "would make a very significant change to the employment green card system, and moves us farther away from a merit-based process. It rewards the companies that replaced Americans with guest workers. Will the President sign it?"
The bill faced stiff opposition from other groups, with a petition that raised nearly 50,000 signatures arguing that the bill "will import a swarm of Indian workers," and will do so "in detriment to Americans or immigrants from other nations."
An open letter from the Chinese American Civic Action Alliance, a civil rights advocacy group, argued that "by removing the per-country cap, the bill allows workers contracted to outsourcing companies to crowd out high-skilled workers who have degrees from American universities."
"While supporters say it is fair because it helps Indian and Chinese nationals eliminate their backlogs and accept high-skilled immigrants on a first-come-first-serve basis, this claim is deceptive in nature," the group wrote, arguing that the bill does nothing "to address the cause of the massive backlog consisting mainly of Indian nationals," and it will "only shift the burden from one group of foreign workers to all the other groups.
"In the short run, only one ethnic group will take most of the green cards; In the long run, every potential immigrant will be kept in an ever-growing green card backlog," they argued.
Jay Palmer, a civil-rights activist and opponent of S386, told Breitbart that the bill affects “doctors, accounting, insurance people, teachers, graphics designers, pharmacists ... [and denies] college students from ever having an opportunity to get meaningful jobs, it floods the market, draws down wages, and makes people dependent on big government.”
“They’re going to turn millions of white-collar people into blue-collar people,” he told the outlet.
The bill also sets transition rules for employment-based visas by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability) and EB-3 (skilled and other workers) for people not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas, namely India and China. For fiscal year 2020, this is 15 percent, which drops to 10 percent for the subsequent two fiscal years. Also, of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 percent will be allotted to immigrants from any single country.
A key change in the Senate version is blocking Chinese nationals affiliated with the Chinese military or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from entering the United States or from being eligible to adjust visa status under any category.
Before the bill is put forward for a presidential signature, the House and Senate will need to resolve the differences and reconcile the bills into a single version, with some legal experts suggesting the House may seek to challenge the exclusion of Chinese nationals with military links, setting up a potential battle over whether such individuals pose an unacceptable threat to national security.
"I would suggest people temper their expectations," immigration lawyer Greg Siskind said in a tweet. "Not at all clear what the House thinks about this and how much room there is to tweak if there are changes demanded."
Given Trump's tough-on-China stance, a presidential veto may be a real possibility.
The bill has been hailed by a number of immigration groups, with Aman Kapoor, co-founder and president of Immigration Voice, an immigration advocacy group, calling the bill a "win-win for the American people."
He argues that it "creates a fair and equitable, 'first come, first serve' system for receiving employment-based green cards, putting an end to the discriminatory system that has left over 1 million Indian high-skilled workers in the United States with a decades-long line while individuals from other countries face no wait time at all to receive a green card."
Critics of the bill, such as Kevin Lynn, founder of U.S. Tech Workers, a group that opposes visa worker programs, have argued that the bill also helps entrench big tech monopolies by stifling the recruitment and training of U.S. graduates, who Lynn suggested in remarks to Breitbart are more likely than immigrant workers to quit, set out on their own, and develop competing products.