New Bill in Congress Proposes Increasing Immigration of Highly-Skilled Workers

Immigration law sets a limit on the number of foreign workers with highly specialized job skills that can come to the United States in a particular fiscal year. These limits can affect workers in certain countries more than others. Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz may change that. The bill, called the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, would remove the limit on the number of immigrant visas authorized for workers from countries with a significantly higher number of immigrant petitions.

Congress sets a cap on the total number of visas for skilled workers, known as employment-based (EB) visas for permanent workers and H-1B visas for temporary workers, that may be issued in a given fiscal year (October 1 to September 30). About 140,000 EB visas are issued per fiscal year. EB visas are available in five preference categories, designated EB-1 to EB-5. EB-1 workers include professors, executives, and people of “extraordinary ability.” The preference categories determine the order in which visas are granted, but they should not necessarily be construed as a judgment as to a worker’s value. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), most workers seeking the H-1B visa are subject to an annual cap of 65,000 total visas.

In addition to the overall cap number for EB visas, decades ago Congress established allocations of visas available for specific countries. Immigration law states that no more than 7% of the total number of visa petitions filed in a fiscal year may go to workers from a single country. As workers from different countries seek to immigrate to the U.S. at different rates, this creates significant differences in waiting periods.

The U.S. Department of State issues a monthly Visa Bulletin, which collects data from consular posts around the world listing immigrant visa petitions received in categories with numerical limitations. The monthly bulletins offer an idea of how long petitioners from certain areas and in certain categories must wait. For EB-1 applicants, USCIS is often up-to-date on reviewing and approving or denying petitions. For lower-priority applicants, there is often a backlog. For lower-priority applicants from “oversubscribed” countries, the wait can be very long. “Oversubscribed” countries are ones where the number of petitions receive routinely exceed the 7% limit set by statute. Mexico, India, the Philippines, and mainland China are all considered oversubscribed. Applicants from these countries can wait years for a decision.

Representative Chaffetz’s bill seeks to remove some of these caps affecting individual countries to allow employers to bring in more skilled foreign workers. He describes it in terms of helping American businesses by creating a fairer system for companies to bring in skilled workers from abroad. He criticizes the current system as being essentially “first come, first serve.”

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab represents employers seeking to bring in skilled workers and job seekers who wish to come here to work. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404.

Web Resources

Full text of H.R. 3012 – Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (PDF)

Permanent Workers, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Employment-Based Immigrant Visas, U.S. Department of State

More Blog Posts

H-1B Visa Cap Predication and Update, Immigrant Visa Lawyer Blog, October 23, 2011

Alan Greenspan Supports Immigration of High Skilled Workers, Immigrant Visa Lawyer Blog, July 27, 2011

H-1B “Specialty Occupation” Work Visas Aplenty, Immigrant Visa Lawyer Blog, July 14, 2011