Much to the delight of Indian professionals, US lawmakers on 10 July passed a bill to lift the current seven percent country-cap for the issue of green cards. On becoming a law, the proposed bill will considerably reduce the waiting time of talented professionals who are eyeing permanent residency in the United States.
What is a green card?
A green card grants a non-US citizen the access to permanently work and live in the United States. After getting a green card, immigrants can qualify for US citizenship after three or five years. Green cards are mostly granted to the family members of US citizens (also known as 'family-based green cards') and those who hold green cards currently.
The next biggest group of recipients are workers from other countries who seek employment in the United States. Under the 'employment-based green card' category, various subcategories of workers can choose to sign up for permanent residence. These groups include 'priority workers', 'professionals with advanced degrees', 'physicians', 'skilled, unskilled and professional workers', 'special workers' and 'investors'.
'Humanitarian green cards' are issued for refugees, humanitarian trafficking victims, crime victims, and abuse victims. However, each of these groups must qualify the predetermined criteria that have been set for granting 'humanitarian green cards', in their respective cases.
Under 'diversity lottery green card', the US government randomly selects 50,000 people from a number of entries that it receives from regions such as Asia, Africa, and Oceania. This happens on a yearly basis. The 'longtime resident' green card can be issued to individuals who have stayed in the United States lawfully or unlawfully since 1 January, 1972.
Besides the major ones, there can be numerous other green cards issued by the US government. Every type of green card has certain eligibility requirements which have been enlisted by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
What is an H-1B work visa?
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, The US H-1B visa allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Specialty occupations usually demand application of expertise in specialised areas (IT, finance, mathematics, science, medicine etc.) and a bachelor's degree or work experience.
In 2018, a US report stated that three-fourth H1B visa holders are Indians. The report also said that Indians were the majority of H-1B visa holders in the US and accounted for 73.9 percent of the total visa holders.
How will Indians benefit from the bill?
As per the current immigration system, a cap of 7 percent per country quota is imposed on the allotment of green cards. This has proven to be a major blow for highly skilled Indian IT professionals who enter the US mainly on the H-1B work visas. Titled the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act, 2019, the new bill increases the seven percent country cap to 15 percent. It also provides for the elimination of the seven percent cap on employment-based immigrant visas.
"It proposes to consider 57% of immigrants for skill-based green cards. That's over a fourfold increase from the existing 12%. A large population of Indians, who are currently on H-IB visas are going to benefit from it," The Hindu quoted KV Kumar, chairman, and CEO of Indian American International Chamber of Commerce (IAICC), as saying.
Indians will benefit significantly from US President Donald Trump's new plan that allows easier access for foreign nationals to become permanent residents in the country. On an average, an Indian national has to wait for at least nine-and-a half-years to get a green card.
Trump's proposal adopts a point-based system that prefers people with skills for permanent residency as against the present country based quotas that privileges family ties in the issue of green cards. "We cherish the open door that we want to create for our country, but a big proportion of those immigrants must come in through merit and skill," said Trump. The point-based system is also being followed by countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Reactions to the bill
Congressman Paul Gosar stated that the bill comes at the expense of American workers and students.
Raising concerns regarding the proposed bill, Centre for Immigrant Studies suggested against passing the bill without making any amendments. "Adopting a different green card selection system that chooses the most highly educated and skilled workers would eliminate the need for a per- country cap system, and would not reward the exploitative employers who thrive on the existing system," it said.
On the other hand, the bill was welcomed by Indian professionals from across the United States, particularly those from the Silicon Valley in California, Seattle area in Washington state, the Greater Washington DC area and the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Top American IT firms hailed the legislation, urging the Senate to pass it at the earliest. "Today the US House passed the legislation to ensure people from all countries are treated alike in the Green Card process. This promotes a fair high-skilled immigration system that is good for the business and our economy," said Microsoft president Brad Smith.
Congressman John Curtis backed the bill saying that it will enable the US companies to flourish and compete in a global economy since they hire the brightest people to create products and services. However, Indians will have to wait for the much-anticipated move as the bill has to be passed by the Senate, before being signed as a law by Donald Trump.