False Claims And Objections From Senators Stall Immigration Bill On Green Card Backlog

Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19," in the Dirksen Building in Washington, DC on June 2, 2020. (Photo by Tom Williams / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee speaks in the Dirksen Building on June 2, 2020 (Tom Williams/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

An immigration reform bill that seeks to address green card backlogs was stalled Wednesday in the Senate after Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott objected to the bill, following negotiations between Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

The contentious debate revolved around the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (S.386), which Lee introduced in the Senate in 2019. The bill’s counterpart in the House passed July 10, 2019 in a 365 – 65 vote.

The bill seeks to eliminate a 7% per-country ceiling on employment-based green cards like the EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 programs. Under current immigration law, immigrants from any one country can not make up more than 7% of the total number of green cards allotted in any given year.

Proponents argue that limitations per country harm workers from larger countries who get stuck in backlogs, while workers from smaller countries face no restrictions. Proponents also argue that keeping  large numbers of Indian tech workers in the backlog harms American workers who have to compete with foreign workers with fewer employment rights and opportunities.

Almost 1 million foreign workers and their family members — mostly from India and China — have been awaiting lawful permanent residency in a backlog that could last decades for some foreign nationals, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The backlog can largely be attributed to the artificial cap per country regardless of country size coupled with the fact that the U.S. has not changed its cap of 140,000 green cards issued annually since 1990, according to the Chicago Sun Times. During that time, the growth of the U.S. tech industry has massively increased the demand for (usually cheaper) foreign labor.

Lee argued in a speech June 27, 2019 that the per-country cap “undermines our ability to bring the best and brightest individuals into our country.”

The current law can force immigrants to choose between waiting potentially decades to receive a green card or leaving the country, Lee said. The senator also cited a provision where the children of foreign workers can be sent back to their country-of-origin when their temporary visas expire after turning 21.

“Without the per-country caps, our skills-based green card system would operate on a first-come, first-serve basis, ensuring that immigrants are admitted into the United States purely based on their merit, rather than their country-of-origin,” Lee said October 17, 2019 during a speech.

The bill has been supported both by immigrant advocacy groups like Immigration Voice and by immigration hawks like Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Proponents argue current law discriminates against high-skilled workers and does not represent a truly merit-based immigration system.

Read More
%d bloggers like this: