The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044)would eliminate per-country quotas for employment-based immigration and more than double per-country quotas for family-based immigration. While per-country quotas are unfair and counter-productive, if they were simply and swiftly eliminated without doing more, a new host of problems would arise.

Why Getting Rid of EB Per-Country Quotas is a Good Idea

If we want to have an immigration system which is based on merit, it does not make sense to make a person wait in line for a green card for years longer than another person simply because of the country in which the person was born.

There are no per-country quotas for those with temporary working visas like H-1B professionals, L-1 intracompany transferees and O-1 persons of extraordinary ability. Yet, when persons with temporary working visas seek to become permanent residents of the United States, their country of birth suddenly becomes of the utmost importance.

Let’s say that you and your co-worker are computer programmers working in the U.S. on H-1B visas. Your employer sponsors both of you for green cards. You were born in one of the 28 countries of the European Union and your co-worker was born in India. You will be able to get a green card in a year or two. Your co-worker, because he was born in India, will have to wait for decades to get a green card. Is this fair? Of course not!

Immigration laws limit the number of green cards in each of the employment-based and the family-based categories to 7% of persons born in a particular country. Over 50% of all H-1B professionals working in the US were born in India. Only when they are sponsored for green cards by their employers does the 7% quota kick in. They are forced to wait in line for a huge amount of time.

Obviously, Congress should get rid of per-country quotas, and do so quickly. But wait…

The Downside of Getting Rid of EB Per-Country Quotas

Considering the long and unfair waiting times, getting rid of EB per-country quotas makes perfect sense. H.R. 1044 would benefit persons born in India and China were are currently waiting in long lines for EB green cards. However, it would have an adverse effect on persons who are sponsored for EB green cards in the future including persons born in India and China.

What would be the impact on our immigration system, our economy and the health care of Americans if we simply eliminate per-country quotas without doing more?

A good example is the EB-2 category for advance degreed professionals. The number of persons permitted to get green cards under this category is 40,000 per year. This number includes the professional, his/her spouse and their children.

Since well over 400,000 persons waiting to get green cards in the EB-2 category were born in India, if per-country quotas were suddenly removed, they would use most of the EB-2 numbers for over a decade. There is also a considerable backlog in the EB-2 category for persons born in China. The proposed law would create a 3-year transition period for persons waiting for green cards who were not born in India or China. They would get 15% of the green cards in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories. However, after the transition period ends, almost all of the green cards in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories would be given only to persons born in India and China since they have been waiting in line for a long period of time.

The legislation also provides that no one who is the beneficiary of an employment-based immigrant visa petition approved before the bill’s enactment will get a visa later than if there had been no bill. However, there are no protections for immigrants whose EB visa petitions are approved after the effective date of the bill. H.R. 1044 does nothing to insure that long EB backlogs will not simply be moved from India and China to the Worldwide waiting list, something that would affect all applicants for EB-2 and EB-3 green cards.

Consider the effects of passing H.R. 1044 on U.S. health care and our aging population:

The American Association of Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. will experience a shortage of between 40,000 and 104,000 physicians by the year 2030. Already, over 80,000,000 Americans live in medically-underserved areas where the ratio of primary physicians to population is less than 1 to 3,000.

International Medical Graduates help alleviate the doctor shortage in these medically-underserved areas. After completing their medical residencies and fellowships in the U.S., they must work in shortage areas for 3 to 5 years before they can become permanent residents under the EB-2 category. Under H.R. 1044, this period could lengthen to 7 or more years. If this causes physicians to go to other countries, U.S. patients would pay the price.

A recent study predicts that there will be over 200,000 unfilled jobs for nurses in the U.S. by 2020.

For the past few decades, U.S. health care providers have recruited foreign-born nurses and sponsored them for green cards under the EB-3 category to help alleviate the growing shortage of nurses in this country. However, for most nurses, there is no temporary working category. If the passage of the bill to get rid of per-country quotas passes as written, it could take many years for a hospital to immigrate a foreign-born nurse to the U.S.

As the current shortage of physicians, nurses and other health care professionals worsens, how many Americans will suffer due to a lack of proper health care?

Even looking at this issue alone, passing H.R. 1044 as written could lead to disastrous results.

How to Improve Employment-Based Immigration

Any new law to get rid of the per-country quotas must also increase the number of persons who are able to immigrate to our country based on their merits.

Currently, about 1 million people immigrate to the U.S. every year. The overwhelming majority are sponsored by family members: spouses, parents, sons, daughters and siblings of U.S. citizens and green card holders. Less than 15% immigrate based on their job skills.

Let’s increase the number and percentage of employment-based immigrants. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law a bill which more than doubled the number of employment-based immigrants. Now, almost 30 years later, it’s time to double the number again.

Also, Congress should consider abolishing some ridiculous programs like the Diversity Visa Lottery which awards 50,000 green cards per year to persons based on their country of birth. Let’s give these 50,000 green cards to immigrants based on their merits. This would be a significant improvement to our broken immigration system.

H.R. 1044 – More Information