Many are watching carefully as Congress and the nation debate reforms to our country’s immigration system. As the discourse heats up on topics of illegal immigration and border security, it’s easy to overlook other important aspects of the comprehensive bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The practical impact of the proposed changes would greatly increase the number of employment-based visas, benefitting citizens of one nation in particular – India.
Currently, the number of employment-based green cards given to Indians each year is capped to an arbitrarily low amount, just seven percent of the 140,000 total. Despite a booming population of Indians with advanced degrees and experience in high tech fields such as computer science and engineering, the seven percent cap applies uniformly to each individual country. For Indians, the cap has created a backlog that can keep immigrants waiting 14 years for a green card under the current system.
While 140,000 visas may seem like plenty, after applying the seven percent cap for any single country, Indians start with just 2,800 green cards each year for each of the EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 categories, respectively. Though Indians are now allowed to exceed the seven percent cap when visas in EB-1 and EB-2 go unused by other countries, the additional visas are too few and do little to ease waiting times. Currently, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics, Indians are getting approximately 30,000 employment-based green cards each year out of the 140,000 available worldwide.
Under the new proposed bill, those applying for a green card under EB-1 would no longer count towards the total number of green cards given each year, and this allows 20,000 more green cards to be allotted for EB-2 and 20,000 more for EB-3. Second, family members of an applicant will no longer count against the quota in each category. For example, a professional with his wife and two children currently draws down four green cards from a given employment-based immigration category. Under the proposed bill, only a single green card, one for the primary applicant, would count against the quota.
Although the bill officially only brings EB-2 and EB-3 up to 60,000 visas each, the allowance of family members who won’t count against the caps effectively means the number of visas granted could increase to around 150,000 in each category. The seven percent cap to any single nation would also be removed, allowing these prescribed and practical increases of EB-2 and EB-3 visas to greatly alleviate the backlog of Indians waiting in a decade-long line. But, these gains are just the beginning.
The bill also exempts from the employment-based immigration visa caps anyone who has earned a Master’s degree or higher from a United States university in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics – STEM degrees. Based on H-1B visa program statistics, there are an estimated 10,000 immigrants each year meeting these criteria, many of whom are from India. And, again accounting for family members who won’t count against any cap, there could be a total of approximately 25,000 new visas available under the STEM degree exception.
Lastly, and with the highest potential impact, the new bill would allow a recapture of all unused employment-based visas from 1992 to the present. During the 90’s and early 2000’s, many green cards went unused each year because of processing delays and the seven percent cap. This led to an estimated 400,000 green cards that went unused, which would now become available. Once again accounting for family members who wouldn’t be calculated into the employment-based caps, the recapture could effectively lead to an additional 1,000,000 visas becoming available with no per-country caps.
Ultimately, the benefit of these proposed changes will be felt in the line of tens of thousands of highly qualified Indians waiting their turn to get a green card. Though the new employment-based visas would be available to immigrants of any country, India stands to derive the biggest benefit from the proposed changes to employment-based immigration.
Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is highly experienced in working with employment-based visas, adjustment of status, green cards, and PERM labor certification. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.