On November 29, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to end per-country
caps on worker-based immigration visas. This decision would greatly benefit
skilled Indian and Chinese workers seeking to stay in the United States
as well as the high-tech companies that employ many of these workers.
The legislation that passed, 289-15, is a uncommon example of bipartisan
accord on immigration. This is an issue that has largely been avoided
during the current session of Congress due to the political sensitivities involved.
The measure would repeal current legislation that says employment-based
visas to any one country cannot exceed 7 percent of the total number of
such visas given out. Instead, permanent resident visas, or green cards,
would be handled on a first-come first serve basis. To date, the State
Department issues 140,000 such green cards each year to foreign nationals
working in the United States.
It is important to note that the bill does not change the number of visas
being issued per year. Public interest groups representing immigrations
feel that the bill would do little to resolve pressing immigration issues.
Since there will be no increase in the number of visas issued per year,
there will be immigrants who come out behind. Hosin “David”
Lee, president of the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association,
said the bill would force engineers from South Korea to wait an additional
two years in their immigration process to get green cards. However, Compete
America, a group that represents high-tech companies such as Google and
Microsoft and research institutes, stated that the bill would correct
a problem in which very small countries are subject to the same 7 percent
cap as large countries such as India and China, which account for more
than 40 percent of the world’s population.