What Would Planned Changes to Per-Country Visa Caps Mean For Immigrants?

While the House Appropriations Committee’s 2019 spending bill contained many notes of optimism for immigration activists, including a substantial rejection of any further border wall spending as well as new protections for DACA veterans and family migrants, one potentially game-changing amendment managed to slip underneath the radar.

H.R. 392 or the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act aims to remove the per-country green card caps that have previously restricted the issuance of employment and family-sponsored visas to 7% per country.  Under established rules, each country was entitled to a maximum of 26250 visas per annum. Considering the fact that there are currently over 300,000 Indian workers and more than 60,000 Chinese workers in the processing backlog for H1-B and other employment visas, per-country caps acted to delay many of these pending applications for years at a time.

Proposed Implementation

Proponents of the so-called Yoder amendment (after originator Rep. Kevin Yoder), propose a new quota-based system that would allocate a certain percentage of visa approvals to immigrants from outside of India and China, while the remaining allotment would be focused on clearing the backlog of applicants from these countries. Based on this process, the total number of applications should naturally balance out over the next 5-7 years.

The Potential Impact

Of course, if this amendment is successful, then it would be a huge boon for skilled individuals from high volume migration countries, but these benefits would come with a significant downside.

  • Removal of caps will make it more difficult for non-Indian and Chinese immigrants to gain a foothold in the American workforce, which will impact the diversity of skilled labor employed across the country.
  • As the USCIS works through the massive backlog of applicants, many individuals who are already on an H1-B visa will find it difficult to remain in the country long enough to obtain a green card.
  • The vast majority of Indian applicants are seeking employment in IT and software-related companies, industries that require non-IT related skills could struggle to resolve critical shortages.
  • These changes would have a pronounced effect on the healthcare industry where a large portion of employees are foreign-born nurses that have obtained employment-based green cards after arriving in the United States. Most of these applicants are from non-backlogged countries.
  • Immigrants from countries that have been hit by Trump administration policies such as the travel ban will find it even more difficult to enter and remain in the United States.

Support for the Amendment

Although previous versions of this amendment have failed to pass House voting in June and July, the current Yoder amendment enjoys broad support from around 75% of the House.  Meanwhile, opponents are largely spread out amongst several different interest groups, so it is difficult to organize any sort of sustained consensus against the removal of per-country caps.

However, it should be noted that even if the bill does go into place, many experts predict that new Indian and Chinese H1-B visa applicants will still have to wait 15-20 years to get their petitions processed as the cue of immigrants is continuously growing year by year.