The U.S. has many bizarre immigration policies toward high-skilled individuals. Perhaps the most absurd one is the cap on the number of visas allowed per country, regardless of that country’s population size. How many visas are allocated to people of extraordinary ability from China, a country of over 1.5 billion people? Exactly 2,803. The same number is allocated to Bhutan, a country of less than 1 million people. As a result, it can be years, even decades, before a highly-skilled individual from a large country is granted a U.S. employment immigration visa.
The goal of employment-based immigration is to allow U.S. employers to fill positions for which they cannot find qualified, willing and able Americans. But this country-cap rule does not serve that goal by any means. It makes little sense for American employers who seek immigrant visas for skilled foreign workers to have to wait longer just because those workers are from India or China. After all, the country of origin does not affect the immigrants’ ability to contribute to the U.S. economy. At this point, Employers have already proven to the Labor Department through the labor certification process that they need these highly-skilled workers, that qualified Americans are not available, and that American labor will not be harmed.
Despite its absurdity, the country-cap rule has existed for over half a century with little contest, until the U.S. House of Representatives recently took a small step to end it. H.R. 3012 “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act” (“FHSIA”), which seeks to lift the country-cap on employment visa, passed through the U.S. House in November 2011 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 389 to 15. It now is placed with the Senate for consideration. If FHSIA becomes law, it will eliminate the country-cap entirely by fiscal year 2015. After that, the country-cap rule will be replaced with a first-come, first-serve system based on when the employment immigration petition is filed. However, unless Congress increases the total number of employment immigration visas, first-come, first serve system this could potentially delay the process for high-skilled immigrants from countries other than India and China. In this one respect, FHSIA may not be so appealing without further alteration.
Although the actual benefits of FHSIA still remain to be seen, its passage in the House is at least a good start towards a rational immigration policy that will benefit U.S. employers seeking to attract high-skilled immigrants, and ultimately bode well for a U.S. economic renaissance.
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