Washington: The US House of Representatives has passed by an overwhelming majority a legislation to remove the seven per cent country-cap on Green Card applicants, a development which could end the agonising wait of tens of thousands of talented professionals from countries like India who have sought permanent residency.
The bill, when signed into law, increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from seven per cent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 per cent and eliminates the seven per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas.
A Green Card allows a non-US citizen to live and work permanently in America.
Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and come to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card or permanent legal residency.
The bill titled 'Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019' or 'HR 1044' to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants, to increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrants, and for other purposes, was passed on Wednesday by an overwhelming 365-65 votes in a 435-member House.
Lifting the per-country cap would mainly benefit professionals from countries like India, for whom the wait for Green Card is more than a decade. Some of the recent studies have said the waiting period for Indian IT professionals on H-1B visas is more than 70 years.
The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from Financial Year 2020-22 by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas.
Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 per cent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country, Congressional Research Service (CRS) said.
The bill, however, has to be passed by the Senate, where the ruling Republican Party enjoys a majority, before it can be signed into law by US President Donald Trump.
A similar bill being supported by a bipartisan group of senators, including Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris, is slated to come up for consideration soon in the Senate.
Congressman John Curtis, speaking on House floor, said that bill will create a first-come, first-serve system providing certainty to workers and families and enabling US companies to flourish and compete in a global economy as they hire the brightest people to create products, services, and jobs - regardless of where they were born.
"This bill would do nothing to move the current employment-sponsored system toward a more merit-based system," said Joseph S Joh, Assistant Director and Senior Advisor in the Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Homeland Security.
The passage of the bill was welcomed by Indian professionals from across the country, in particularly in the Silicon Valley in California, Seattle area in Washington State, the Greater Washington DC Area and the tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Top American IT companies also welcomed the passage of the bill and urged the Senate to pass it at earliest so that the President can sign it into law.
"Today the US House passed legislation to ensure people from all countries are treated the same in the green card process. This promotes a fair high-skilled immigration system that's good for business and our economy," said Microsoft president Brad Smith.
Todd Schulte, president FWD.us, an advocacy organisation representing top Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and DropBox, said that "this bill will help ensure that those seeking permanent residency will not have to face extraordinary wait times - projected at 50 years or more for people from countries like India and China - simply because of their country of origin."
"Eliminating 'per-country' caps for employment-based green cards and raising caps for family-based green cards will make the system fairer for immigrant families while also strengthening the United States' ability to recruit and retain top global talent by establishing a fair and predictable path to permanent legal status," he said.
The bill which was championed by Sunayana Dumala, the wife of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla who was shot dead in a hate crime shooting, said that it was an important day and "a moment we have been waiting for years. Finally, our hard work and tireless efforts have come into fruition," The Kansas City Star reported.
Kuchibhotla was killed in a shooting at restaurant in Olathe in Kansas in February 2017. His wife Sunayana made multiple visits to Washington to advocate for the legislation.
"After the tragic murder of my husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, I lost my status to stay in the country and the immigration struggle took over my grief," Dumala said in a statement on Wednesday.
"And today, with HR 1044 getting passed, I can finally find peace and no words can express my happiness," she said.