In a move that may allow more highly skilled immigrants from India and China to obtain the so-called green cards faster, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill modifying the visa system.
The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigration Act (H.R. 3012), eliminating per-country caps on employment-based visas and instituting a first come, first served system, drew broad, bipartisan support, passing the House with a vote of 389-15 Tuesday.
The bill is expected to move swiftly through the Senate.
Currently, immigration law limits employment-based green cards allowing permanent residence for citizens from any one country to no more than seven percent of the total green cards approved by the State Department in any particular year.
The rule makes it easier to obtain a green card for applicants from smaller countries that don't generate a significant amount of applications, but makes it tougher for workers from big countries that provide most of the foreign tech workers sought by companies.
Individuals from India, the source of most tech industry immigrants to the US, often have to wait up to 10 years for a green card due to the per-country cap.
The High-Skilled Immigration Act, which was introduced to Congress in September by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, aims to correct such imbalances by switching to a first come, first served system for the roughly 140,000 employment-based green cards awarded each year.
"Per country limits make no sense in the context of employment-based visas. Companies view all highly skilled immigrants as the same regardless of where they are from--be it India or Brazil," Chaffetz said in a statement.
In addition to eliminating numerical caps on employment-based green cards, the Act would also raise the per-country cap for 226,000 family-related green cards from seven percent of the total to 15 percent.
The bill's bipartisan support owes much to the fact that it does nothing to increase the total number of green cards awarded, it simply evens out the process for those looking to emigrate to the US.
American technology companies have been clamouring for Congress to offer more green cards for their foreign employees, arguing that the United States was losing out in global competition by forcing those immigrants to leave.