New Delhi: A Bill that would eliminate country caps on green card applications, dramatically reducing wait times for Indian and Chinese foreign workers in the US, could soon be introduced in the Senate, pending the addition of a new amendment. If introduced, it has a high likelihood of passing, say experts.

HR3012, or The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, was passed by an unprecedented landslide vote of 389-15 in the House of Representatives last November. The Bill eliminates country-based caps in the current green card system, which will significantly reduce wait times for Indian and Chinese applicants, but could also moderately increase the waiting period for applicants from other countries.

“This change would be extremely beneficial for Indians, particularly those in the EB-2 category, where wait times for green cards could be around five years. According to some reports the wait time in the EB-3 category can be as much as 70 years," said Poorvi Chothani, a Mumbai-based immigration lawyer and the managing partner of LawQuest. EB-2s are granted to professionals with advanced degrees or persons with exceptional abilities, while EB-3 are for skilled or professional workers.

Sorting it out: Iowa senator Charles Grassley had earlier threatened to filibuster the Bill unless he was permitted to add provisions from his own Bill. Now, Grassley’s office has confirmed a compromise is being worked on, and the senator could soon remove his hold on the Bill, allowing it to be introduced in the Senate. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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The issue of job advertisements aimed at foreign workers recently made national headlines in the US, after a Chicago-based non-governmental organization, Bright Futures, published a report highlighting the issue last week. Called No Americans Need Apply, the report drew attention to more than 100 job postings on a prominent information technology (IT) job site, Dice.com, specifically requesting visa holders, such as H-1B, L-1, and OPT (a category of work visa given to foreign students), in the headlines of the job postings. The report also drew attention to growing numbers of “OPT recruiter" positions posted by American companies with openings in the US and India. “This clearly discriminates against Americans," said Donna Conroy, the report’s writer. Bright Futures wants the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency established to prevent workplace discrimination based on race, colour, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability, to start cracking down on such job ads, Conroy said. “What we are trying to do is update those laws to include the elimination of visa terms in a job ad. Visa terms don’t define jobs or skills—they only exclude American workers."

Dice.com chose not to respond directly to the Bright Futures report, instead referring Mint to a written statement on its non-discrimination policy. “Dice.com has very strict guidelines regarding discriminatory job advertisements, including forbidden practices on various pages employers and recruiters use to create job advertisement," Dice’s senior vice-president Tom L. Silver said in the statement. “On a daily basis, we proactively search our site for the various discriminatory terms. In the rare instances that we find an advertisement that doesn’t comply with our policies, we contact the employer or recruiter to have the ad removed promptly. If the employer or recruiter fails to comply, we remove the advertisement."

Conroy has approached senators Grassley and Dick Durbin with the report. Grassley’s aide Kathy Nuebel said that his office was working to re-introduce the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act later this year. “It has been delayed, in part, because Sen. Grassley is working a separate track to include one of the provisions in the per country cap Bill (HR3012)," Nuebel said in an email. “That probably won’t change the look of the Durbin-Grassley Bill, but we’ve been busy on that side of things."

Senators Grassley and Senate Majority leader Dick Durbin introduced versions of the act to the Senate in 2009. When those did not pass, senator Grassley threatened to hold HR3012 unless the bulk of his visa reform act was attached to the Bill as an amendment.

Now, Grassley’s office has confirmed a compromise is being worked on. If accepted, the senator could soon remove his hold on HR3012, allowing the Bill to be introduced in the Senate. Grassley’s aide Nuebel confirmed that the language of the revised amendment focuses on giving more authority to the Department of Labour to investigate and detect visa fraud. Grassley’s office also said that the senator intends to re-introduce the remaining provisions of the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act sometime later this year, though they do not have a definitive timeline.

While it would be premature to speculate on Grassley’s amendment, the passage of HR3012 would be a welcome move, said Amit Nivsarkar, vice-president of the Indian software industry lobby group National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom).

“It will probably indirectly benefit the IT industry, because there are many graduates from American universities in the technology field who do not stay back in the US because they do not get a green card," he said. “So the talent pool will increase, so there will be some benefit, for the Indian IT industry."

But Chothani voiced some reservations with regard to the preliminary draft of Grassley’s revised amendment, which was obtained by the American Immigration Lawyers Association last week and posted on their web site. “For instance, if a company has 100 employees, and if 15% of the workers are H-1B workers, then those companies shall be audited every year. That is going to add so much red tape to the system," Chothani said. “It is a major drain on government resources as well as company resources. The paramount focus of all these senators is apparently economic growth, but I’m not sure how this would contribute to that."

If passed, HR3012 would be significant, particularly for Indian and Chinese green card applicants. Under the current system, the federal government limits the annual number of employer-sponsored green cards to 140,000, of which no more than 7% is allocated to any one country (including family members of sponsored applicants). Critics of the current system argue that the cap discriminates against highly skilled workers from countries where green card demand is high, such as China and India—and which also represent a significant portion of green card applicants. A study published last October by the Washington-based National Foundation for American Policy found that Indian applicants for green cards from the EB-2 category (highly skilled professionals with graduate degrees) faced waits of up to seven years, while Indians applying in the EB-3 (skilled professionals with a college degree) could wait as long as 70 years for a green card due to the country caps.

Those who support HR3012 say that the elimination of country-based caps will create a more equitable green card system by making it first-come-first served. “It’s a reasonably small Bill, and it doesn’t create new visas—it just redistributes the old ones. I do think it has a decent chance of passing," said Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at Washington, DC think tank Migration Policy Institute. “It’s the least controversial of all the proposals out there, but it will make a big difference for Indian and Chinese people who are waiting for green cards. These people currently have to wait 10 years or more for a green card, so they would get their green cards much quicker." If the compromise really does happen, Sumption estimates that HR3012 could be introduced in the Senate “quite soon".

malia.p@livemint.com

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