House Passes Bill to Equalize the Green Card Backlog by Eliminating Country-Based Caps
This month the House of Representatives passed H.R.1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which would reduce the green card backlogs for certain immigrants by allocating more immigrant visas for employment-based immigrants, and eliminate country-based caps that create long waits for immigrants from certain countries such as China and India. Popularly called the “Green Card Equality Bill” it is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Democrat Zoe Lofgren and Republican Ken Buck, though it must be passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump to become law.
The bill would establish a “first-come first-served” employment-based visa system by eliminating the “per country” caps. Currently, immigrants from larger countries with a high rate of immigration to the U.S. are subject to years-long backlogs, in particular immigrants from China and India, because employment-based green cards are limited to a 7% per-country cap. Indian nationals in particular may have to wait decades to become permanent residents. Immigrants from other countries with lower rates of immigration may have no wait at all (e.g. European countries, other smaller countries). The bill would gradually eliminate these inequities in employment-based immigration categories, making the waits shorter for immigrants from China and India and longer for others. All nationalities would wait in the same line for all employment-based categories, including extraordinary ability and international executive transferees (EB-1), advanced degree workers and national interest waivers (EB-2), skilled workers with bachelor’s degrees (EB-3), and immigrant investors (EB-5). The bill would also increase the amount of immigrant visas available for family-based immigration, reducing wait times but maintaining the country-based quotas for family-based immigrants.
If the bill becomes law, a large number of Chinese and Indian immigrants who have started the green card process may be immediately eligible to apply for their green cards here or enter the U.S. as green card holders. Immigrants from other countries may begin to face backlogs, though a three-year phase-in period would minimize the initial impact on these immigrants. Representative Lofgren estimates that it may take up to a decade for the wait times to equalize. However, overall the bill does not increase the number of green cards for employment-based professionals so generally speaking backlogs would likely continue to increase even if this bill passes, though all nationalities would wait in one line. Although there is bipartisan support for the bill several Republican Senators have objected to various provisions and its passage is uncertain in the Senate. Trump has not weighed in, though in May he announced a plan to make the U.S. immigration system more “merit” based, like the system in Canada.