The immigration reform bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators last week would make it easier for skilled workers to come to this country while toughening rules to prevent abuse in temporary work visas.
Many skilled workers and their families spend a decade or more waiting for employment-based green cards, which are capped at 140,000 a year and are subject to per-country limits. The bill addresses this problem by temporarily raising limits to clear a backlog of 234,000 applications for employment-based permanent visas. It would also exempt spouses and children of workers from the limits, which should free up nearly 80,000 visas a year.
It also creates a “merit based” category of green cards while getting rid of permanent visas for siblings of citizens and for people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. These new visas would be given to people on the basis of points granted for factors like the college degrees they have earned; whether their siblings are citizens; how highly they score in an English proficiency test; and whether they are from an underrepresented country. This proposal is deeply troubling because it appears to buy into the zero-sum thinking that pits employment-based immigration against family-sponsored and diversity immigration. America should welcome both groups of people, not choose between them.
The senators also want to expand the popular H-1B category of work visas to 135,000, from 85,000 — a quota that is often reached in a matter of weeks or months every year. The new, higher limit would be allowed to increase or decrease by as many as 10,000 visas a year based on demand for them and government unemployment data. In an important provision, people on such visas will be able to switch employers more easily, making it harder for companies to pay workers below-market salaries.
Another provision would clamp down on abuse by imposing higher fees and other restrictions on employers who have a large percentage of their work force on such visas. Over several years, the bill would force these companies, many of which are the United States operations of outsourcing firms from India, to reduce the number of their workers who are foreigners to less than 50 percent.
While some provisions need to be improved, the bill sets the right tone for making America more hospitable to skilled and hard-working immigrants.
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