On December 2, 2020, the United States Senate voted to pass S.386/H.R.1004 The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (FHSIA). If the House and Senate can resolve their differences, and President Trump signs the bill into law, it would mark the most significant piece of immigration reform since President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA) into law that allowed companies to sponsor green cards for highly skilled foreign workers and workers in industries that are experiencing a shortage.
For an economy largely dependent on a consistent flow of skilled foreign labor, passing the FHSIA should be a priority for lawmakers who want to ensure the United States remains at the forefront of innovation.
One of the major flaws that FHSIA corrects in America’s immigration system is the elimination of per-country limits on employment-based green cards. Currently, employment-based green cards are governed by the INA which stipulates that no one country can receive more than 7 percent of employment-based green cards in a single year, regardless of size or number of applicants.
This means applicants from countries with a large number of applicants each year, such as India, China, and the Philippines, will receive the same number of green cards as countries that have fewer applicants. This situation has not only led to a substantial backlog in applications, which will take decades to clear, but also discriminates against foreign labor based on their country of origin.
Aside from establishing per-country limits, the INA also specifies the U.S. Government can only issue 140,000 Employment-based green cards each year, regardless of demand.
Estimates suggest in the United States alone, 800,000 immigrants are waiting for employment-based green card applications to be processed while certain categories of Indian nationals can expect to wait up to 50 years to receive an employment-based green card.
Limiting the number of immigrants who can move to the United States based solely on where they were born is problematic, because this stymies the contribution immigrants can make to the wider U.S. economy. Data suggests that in its current limited form, immigration adds $2 trillion to the U.S. economy, but has also raised wages, stimulated consumer demand, and provided jobs to native-born Americans.
These figures would undoubtedly be higher if the U.S. government were able to select which immigrants would come to the country based on skills, not country of origin.
Eliminating the per-country limit could also provide a significant boost to innovation, particularly in the technology sector which has been the biggest benefactor of employment based green cards. A recent study conducted by Stanford University found that while immigrants only make up 16% of inventors, they have been responsible for “30% of aggregate US innovation since 1976,” helping to develop everything from cell phones to biotechnology to computers.
Removing the per-country cap on employment-based green cards would mean that instead of judging someone’s eligibility for a green card based on place of birth, the U.S. government could prioritize granting green cards to those most likely to drive innovation and support the U.S. economy.
Large technology companies have also recognized the importance of foreign labor for driving innovation. In supporting the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, Microsoft suggested removing the per-country limits on employment based green cards was “the best way to promote a robust…innovation-based economy.” Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, also supported the passage of FHSIA, stating in a tweet the contributions of employment-based green card holders are “critical to America’s future.”
Clearly, the substantial backlog of employment-based green cards represents a major crisis in the American immigration system caused by an outdated law that no longer reflects the importance of foreign labor to the U.S economy. To resolve this backlog and ensure U.S. companies remain at the forefront of innovation, Congress needs to quickly pass the FHSIA. Without it, immigrants will not only face a discriminatory immigration system, but the economy will not have access to the labor pool that has driven innovation.