The Avenue

A Bipartisan Tweak to Reduce the Immigration Reform Backlog

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This week, Congress took a small step in reforming America’s out-dated immigration system. In H.R. 3012 the House voted to end country limits for employment-based visas, which should increase the number of highly-skilled workers from India and China granted green cards. 

The bill would also raise per-country limits for green card applicants for certain family-based visas.

“The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011” does not raise the number of visas issued annually, but, by removing the limit on the number of visas issued to individuals from any one country, would begin to reduce the backlog of Indian and Chinese immigrants who currently have longer waiting times than other nationalities. Not coincidently, immigrants from these countries hail from the two most populous nations in the world, with economies that have risen as global competitors over the last decade. They also have some of the highest levels of educational attainment and income among immigrants in the United States. Bottom line: the migrants who would most benefit from this bill are viewed as the cream of the crop.

By now, many have given up on a major overhaul of U.S. immigration policy but the Great Recession has pushed lawmakers and advocates to look for ways to align America’s economic interests with targeted reforms. 

The overwhelming support from both parties in the House (by a vote of 389 to 15) illustrates that Congress recognizes the significant role that high-skilled migrants play in America and the global economy. Whether they are creating new innovative technologies, providing needed technical skills for American companies, or starting new enterprises, they serve as valuable bridges between regional, national, and global economies. 

Lawmakers also recognize the human side of migration and that family unification is a central pillar of the American immigration system. The legislation passed by the House includes a provision that raises the country limits that would benefit Mexican and Filipino immigrants first. Would-be immigrants from those two countries--the source of the largest immigrant populations in the United States--have the lengthiest backlogs for family-based visas. This provision would bring together families more quickly.  

Usually, immigration bills are fodder for partisan clashes as Democrats and Republicans tend to see the issue differently. In the case of H.R. 3012, this is a tweak in the right direction for both parties.

Despite this symbolic show of unity in the House, the backlog of reforms necessary to bring the immigration system into the 21st century remains enormous.   America has been waiting longer for an overhaul of immigration policy than many of the potential beneficiaries of HR 3012. 

We hope this is a sign that Congress is willing to work together--even if it’s one baby step at a time--to tackle the immigration reform backlog.

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