Immigration Reformers Applaud GOP-Led Effort To Lift Per-Country Green Card Caps

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • Immigration Voice, a group that represents Indian immigrants, is applauding a proprosal by Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas to lift per-country caps on employment green cards.
  • The proposal comes as the backlog of Indian green card applicants has swelled to more than 300,000, causing wait times of decades for some immigrants.
  • Immigration Voice says the Yoder proposal is needed to clear out the backlog and make the employment-based immigration system fairer for immigrants and U.S. workers alike.

A leading immigration reform group is cheering a bipartisan effort led by Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas to do away with country-of-origin limits on employment-based green cards, a policy that has contributed to an enormous backlog of Indian green card applicants.

The House Committed on Appropriations passed the proposal, originally part of Yoder’s stalled Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, on Wednesday as part of the 2019 Department of Homeland Security spending bill.

It is long overdue, according to Aman Kapoor, the co-founder of Immigration Voice. An Indian immigrant who became a permanent resident in 2007 and U.S. citizen in 2013, Kapoor says the amendment will pare down the backlog while making the immigration system more equitable for immigrants and U.S. workers alike.

The backlog is the unintended consequence of the per-country cap on employment-based immigration visas, which is currently set at 7 percent of the annual limit of roughly 140,000, or about 9,800 per country. Established in the Immigration Act of 1990, the cap was intended to keep immigration flows diverse by ensuring that no single country could receive an outsize share of immigrant visas in both family and employment categories.

Along with the per-country cap, the backlog is fed by the H-1B visa program, which allows U.S. companies to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers in certain high-skill occupations if they can’t find Americans to fill the jobs. Workers from India have come to dominate the H-1B program — three out of every four H-1B petitions approved in 2017 went to workers from India, according to USCIS data.

Because there are far more Indian workers in the U.S. trying to adjust to employment-based immigration status than there are green cards available each year, and the backlog has exploded in recent years. As of April, there were about 306,000 Indian applicants in the green card queue, and many of them will have to wait decades before they receive an adjudication.

It’s a scenario that Kapoor, who has been living and working in the U.S. for more than 17 years, knows well.

“I’ve lived in the trenches — I’ve seen the system up close,” he hold The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I’ve lived through it.”

Kapoor’s group is one of the most vocal grassroots supporters of the Yoder amendment, which would do away with per-country caps for employmnet-based visas and raise them to 15 percent for family categories. Without it, many Indian guest workers have little hope of becoming permanent residents and will remain in a status that is more akin to indentured servitude, says to Leon Fresco, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration lawyer who serves as Immigration Voice’s general counsel.

“If I hire the Indian worker, I have full control over that worker’s talents and abilities for the next 70 years because that’s how long it will take for him to get a green card,” Fresco told TheDCNF. “They can’t ask me for a promotion, they can’t ask for a raise, they can’t ask to change jobs, nothing.”

The arrangement creates a perverse incentive for American firms to continue to hire large number of H-1B workers from India, and to a lesser extent, China, according to Immigration Voice. Since H-1B status is tied to a guest worker’s employer, their companies have more leverage over them than they would a green card holder of a U.S. citizen. (RELATED: GOP Senator Wants To Double The Number Of H-1B Visas)

“That creates a bad incentive for companies to hire from that specific country,” Kapoor argued. “That’s what puts the U.S. worker at a disadvantage in the marketplace.”

“Removing the per-country limit will not encourage employers to hire more people from India,” he added. “To the contrary, we believe it will take away the incentive to hire from India.”

Concerns that Yoder’s amendment will have the practical effect of allowing H-1B dominant countries to monopolize the employment-based green cards are overblown, according to Immigration Voice. The amendment doesn’t reduce the number of immigrant visas available to people from other countries but rather seeks to remove an “arbitrary factor” — country of origin — from the equation and place more weight on merit and date of application, Fresco argues.

“This bill is not making the life of any individual from any of those other countries worse,” he said. “All it’s doing is it’s saying that after this bill is passed, every new person that goes into the green card line is given the exact same weight, while people who applied before those individuals get their green cards [first].”

Fresco concedes that lifting the per-country cap will lead to a period of “five to six” years when Indian immigrants who’ve been waiting for many years will get their green cards before people from other countries. But once the backlog is cleared, immigrants will receive green cards in the order in which they applied, rather than with any regard for national origin, he says.

“It’s a matter of simply saying the system should be based on the date your employer petitioned for you,” Fresco said.

Fresco went on to say that most of the Indian immigrants in question are already in the U.S. and have been contributing to the economy for years. That alone makes them better candidates for permanent residence than someone who’s never lived or worked in the U.S., he says.

“It is anathema for a conservative to say ‘We are so against Indians who’ve been here for decades getting green cards, that we’d rather give them to people who have built no equity at all in this country,'” Fresco said.

“That seems to me to be an odd, anti-conservative argument,” he added.

The homeland security spending bill still has several hurdles to jump before it reaches Trump’s desk. It must pass in a House floor vote, and then House leadership must reconcile the differences with the Senate version, which could entail stripping amendments from the spending package.

Yoder’s measure is widely supported on both sides of the aisle — it has 325 co-sponsors, including most Democrats and more than 100 Republicans.

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