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Bill Ending Per-Country Limits on Skilled Workers

On November 30, 2011, the House passed immigration legislation that would end per-country caps on worker-based immigration visas. The vote, 389-15, was in favor of a measure that would change the law governing employment-based visas which currently states that any one country cannot exceed 7 percent of the total number of allotted immigrant visas. Currently, the law provides 140,000 green cards annually to employment-based immigrants, but the per country cap of 7% (i.e. 9,800 per country) means that countries like India and China with over a billion population are limited to the same number of visas as much less populated countries around the world. Instead, the new measure would award permanent residence visas or green cards on a first-come, first served basis. The elimination of the per-country cap would therefore particularly benefit skilled workers from India and China who currently face the longest backlogs in obtaining permanent residence visas. Sponsors of the bill, including many high-tech companies, believe that the new legislation will benefit the U.S. by encouraging highly skilled foreign workers to stay in the U.S. and use their skills towards strengthening the U.S. economy. Others, however, fear that it will result in overall backlogs in the employment-based categories as the number of allotted immigrant visas will remain the same. For now, it remains to be seen if this legislation will become law. Although the bill has passed the House, it still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the President.