U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE’S PASSAGE OF H.R. 3012, THE FAIRNESS FOR HIGH-SKILLED IMMIGRANTS ACT, MAY SPELL IMMIGRANT VISA BACKLOG RELIEF



On November 29, 2011, the U.S. House of Representative passed H.R. 3012, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act  (vote: 389-15).  The proposed legislation would eliminate the employment-based per-country cap entirely by fiscal year 2015, and also raise the family-sponsored per-country quota from 7% to 15%.

This bill, which will have a three (3) year phase-in period, will mean that by fiscal year 2015, all employment-based permanent resident visas, with a current annual quota of 140,000 available visas worldwide and a 7% visa limit per country, will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, with no per-country limits.  The bill will also double the per country limit for family-based immigrant visas from 7% per country to 15% per country out of the total 226,000 annual visa quota for family-based immigrant visas.

The impact of this bill would benefit the highly skilled workers from India and China, which constitute the 2 largest applicant countries for the employment-based immigrant visa pool.  Currently, each country is slotted 7% of the employment-based immigrant visa pool.  And due to per country visa slot limits, Indian and Chinese nationals, many of whom possess advanced technical and scientific skills, have to wait up at least 10 years and even more before an immigrant visa becomes available to them.  By eliminating the per country visa limits, the aim is to cut down on the waiting times for Indian and Chinese visa applicants by redistributing the available visas, even as there will not be an actual increase in the annual visa quota.  A downside to this bill is that by eliminating the per country visa limit, visa applicants from countries who currently either do not have a visa waiting period, or who enjoy a relatively shorter waiting period than Indian and Chinese nationals will see their visa waiting periods extended due to this visa re-distribution mechanism.

On the family-based immigrant visa end, by more than doubling the per country limit from the current 7% per country to 15% per country, the aim of this bill is to also reduce the visa waiting period for immigrant visa applicants of Mexico and Philippines, who currently have to wait as long as 20 years or more before visas become available to them.

This bill passed the House vote with relative ease, as it was offered by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and co-sponsored by various House Democrats.  This bill has moved on to the Senate, and there are growing indications there that the U.S. Senate will also pass this bill as well.  For now, this remains a bill under deliberation before Congress, and this legislation certainly warrants further monitoring before any conclusions can be made regarding the final version of the bill, which can still be subject to amendments by the U.S. Senate before final passage.

Update: On July 11, 2012, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) lifted the hold that he had previously placed on H.R. 3012, after agreeing to include provisions in the bill that would authorize the U.S. Department of Labor to utilize additional investigative measures to root out fraud and misrepresentation by employers, as well as allowing the DOL to initiate annual compliance audits on selected H-1B employers.  However, there are other concerns that have been raised by other U.S. Senators concerning this bill.  So, at this point in time, we do not know what the final version of the bill may look like, nor do we know when a vote on this bill may take place.  Any further developments on this piece of legislation is certainly worth noting.

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