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House Votes to End Per Country Limits on Worker Visas

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.
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