H.R. 392: Where are you in the queue?

H.R. 392, or the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” has been a controversial bill since it was introduced in January 2017.  This bill, if passed as is, would modify the U.S. immigration laws that specify “per-country limitations” on how many immigrants are accepted into the U.S. annually.

The per-country limitations have the practical effect of creating a waiting time for most of those who wish to gain permanent residence through work or family.  Wait times have historically been the longest for certain “backlogged” countries: namely China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.  Another aspect of the bill is a three-year “transition period” during which visa allotments will be modified to clear out pending applications from the backlogged countries.

H.R. 392 was introduced by Republicans but currently has co-sponsorship by 176 Democrats and 151 Republicans.  Potential foreign workers are split on the whether to support the bill despite its seemingly bipartisan nature.  Those from backlogged countries see this bill as a chance for reasonable wait times, while those from non-backlogged countries view it as a threat that will increase their wait times.

Current wait times can be seen on the Department of State Visa Bulletin, which shows that the wait time for an employment-based Green Card for an Indian professional with an advanced degree is eleven years, while the equivalent worker from a non-backlogged country would only wait five.  Similarly, the wait time for a family-sponsored Philippine sibling of a U.S. citizen is over twenty-two years long, whereas a sibling from a non-backlogged country would process a decade sooner.

The passage of H.R. 392 would eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based migration and increase the per-country limitation for family-based migration.  Importantly, employment-based applications would be accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis with no regard for country of origin.  Those from the backlogged countries view this as a leveling of the playing field.  Those from other countries are resistant to this bill because their wait times would therefore increase.

This bill has pitted immigrants against other immigrants regarding what is fair.  On one hand, this bill would frustrate the purpose of the per-country limitations that were devised to provide a globally representative immigrant population without any particular cultures dominating over others.  The combined populations of the backlogged countries surpass 1/3 of the world’s total population, and H.R. 392 critics fear that eliminating the per-country limitation will cause all other countries to become under represented.  On the other hand, this bill will alleviate the unfair problems that uniquely affect skilled workers from the backlogged countries. For example, an H-1 worker’s children who reach 21 years old while the family waits in the severely backlogged line for a Green Card will “age out” and no longer qualify for dependent status, meaning no Green Card and cannot stay in USA as H dependent.

No law or system is perfect, but they all strive to fairly balance society’s competing interests.  H.R. 392 is a prime example of how competing interests among fellow immigrants can cause political disagreement.  Do you think this bill is fair?  Comment with your thoughts.

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