New Immigration Reform Bill Would Open Up Foreign Work Visas

A new immigration reform bill is written to favor those who enter the U.S. with employment visas rather than family visas.

A new Senate immigration reform bill is poised to shift the U.S. immigration system to better help those immigrants who enter the country with an employment-based visa. According a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, the employment-based immigration caps placed on other countries would be eliminated. Currently, no country can send more than 7 percent of their total visa allotment within a one-year period to the U.S. The limit for each country has been set at 7 percent of the total visas; the other 97 percent have been allotted as family visas, but that figure would be raised to 15 percent.

This limit has greatly hampered countries such as China and India who have large number of qualified immigrants, but who cannot get their U.S. visas because their country reaches the cap so quickly.

Under the new bill, that cap would be raised to 15 percent, which open the employment pathways for immigrants from China and India, but, as critics are quick to point out, that loss of a cap also means the U.S. may see a less diverse group of immigrants. Advocates say the cap may mean more employment immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines.

The bill will also allow some additional ways to gain employment-based “green cards,” including a merit-based visa. A merit-based visa would allow some workers in the U.S. on a temporary visa to become permanent residents and then citizens, based on a point system. Points are allotted for education, family, work history English-language fluency. The merit-based visa system would be put into place to clear the immigration backlog, and run for an estimated five years.

The program would then have 120,000 visas for new immigrants every year, evenly split between higher-skilled and lower-skilled workers, with a skill-specific point system. Higher-skilled workers would be allotted points for post-graduate education and entrepreneurship, while lesser-skilled workers would be allotted points for U.S.—based family and for the household’s primary caregiver. For both higher- and lower-skilled visas, points are heavily awarded for already being employed in the U.S. The merit-based system is designed to be able to expand, based in large part on the U.S. unemployment rate, with a cap of 250,000 visas per year.

A second tier of the merit-based program has also been proposed; it would help undocumented workers who have been employed in the U.S. for 10 years or more to transition to permanent status.

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