Fix elu­sive for back­log of em­ploy­ment green cards

Over­all quota for ob­tain­ing one hasn’t changed since 1990

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Abi­gail Haus­lohner

WASH­ING­TON — An es­ti­mated 800,000 im­mi­grants who are work­ing legally in the United States are wait­ing for a green card, an un­prece­dented back­log in em­ploy­ment-based im­mi­gra­tion that has fu­eled a bit­ter pol­icy de­bate but has been largely over­shad­owed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s bor­der wall and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s focus on mi­grant cross­ings from Mex­ico.

Most of those wait­ing for em­ploy­ment-based green cards that would al­low them to stay in the United States per­ma­nently are In­dian na­tion­als. And the back­log among this group is so acute that an In­dian na­tional who ap­plies for a green card now can ex­pect to wait up to 50 years to get one.

The wait is largely the re­sult of an an­nual quota un­changed since 1990, and per-coun­try lim­its en­acted decades be­fore the tech boom made In­dia the top source of em­ploy­ment­based green card-seek­ers.

The back­log has led to com­pet­ing bills in Congress and has pit­ted im­mi­grants against im­mi­grants, set­ting off ac­cu­sa­tions of racism and greed and ex­pos­ing a deep cyn­i­cism about the prospects for any kind of im­mi­gra­tion re­form in a po­lar­ized na­tion. The de­bate cen­ters on the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of a quick fix to al­le­vi­ate the wait times for those al­ready in the back­log ver­sus a broader im­mi­gra­tion over­haul that could al­low more work­ers to seek per­ma­nent res­i­dency, ad­dress coun­try quo­tas and ex­pand the num­ber of avail­able green cards.

Among those push­ing for a quick res­o­lu­tion are business lead­ers, who worry that a con­gres­sional stale­mate — do­ing noth­ing at all — could push In­dian work­ers out of the United States and cause other skilled work­ers to seek eas­ier paths to citizenshi­p in other coun­tries.

The cri­sis of em­ploy­ment-based green cards burst into the open in Oc­to­ber af­ter a nar­row bill to ad­dress the is­sue nearly passed the Se­nate in a unan­i­mous con­sent mo­tion, af­ter sail­ing eas­ily through the House. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illi­nois, stepped in and blocked it.

The bill’s sup­port­ers cast it as an easy and ob­vi­ous fix — and one that “ar­guably has wider and more bi­par­ti­san sup­port than any other im­mi­gra­tion bill that’s been con­sid­ered in this body in re­cent years,” its Se­nate spon­sor, Mike Lee, R-Utah, said af­ter Durbin ob­jected. “The rea­son for that is it’s fo­cused on a sin­gle, se­ri­ous, solv­able prob­lem that I think we can all agree needs to be solved.”

But Durbin and other crit­ics of the Fair­ness for High-Skilled Im­mi­grants Act, which aims to pro­vide re­lief to In­di­ans by elim­i­nat­ing the coun­try quo­tas for em­ploy­ment green cards, said it isn’t so sim­ple. Be­cause the bill did not in­crease the over­all num­ber of green cards, they ar­gue the back­log will worsen, wait times for all na­tion­al­i­ties will ex­tend to 17 years, and a trickle-down ef­fect will make it dif­fi­cult for work­ing pro­fes­sion­als from any­where other than In­dia to come to the United States.

Durbin pro­posed his own bill, the Re­lief Act, which elim­i­nates the coun­try quo­tas but also raises the num­ber of both em­ploy­ment and fam­ily-based green cards. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also pro­posed a com­pre­hen­sive bill.

Lee has cir­cu­lated an amended ver­sion of the bill that would not in­crease the num­ber of green cards but would add pro­vi­sions Durbin has sought to pro­tect fam­i­lies in the back­log. It is un­clear if other Se­na­tors would be on board with the new lan­guage.

Fam­i­lies are a sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ment of the back­log, as spouses and chil­dren of green card ap­pli­cants count to­ward the an­nual cap of 140,000 em­ploy­ment green cards. Un­der Durbin’s bill, spouses and mi­nor chil­dren would not count against the to­tal quota, and chil­dren of ap­pli­cants would no longer age out at 21, which has made them in­el­i­gi­ble for green cards.

The Cato In­sti­tute, a lib­er­tar­ian think tank, de­clared Durbin’s bill “the best le­gal im­mi­gra­tion re­forms over­all” and found that it would “vir­tu­ally dou­ble” the to­tal num­ber of le­gal im­mi­grants re­ceiv­ing per­ma­nent res­i­dence dur­ing the next decade while re­duc­ing wait times for ev­ery­one to less than a year.

But In­dian tech work­ers have re­sponded with des­per­ate fury, protest­ing Durbin’s ac­tions be­cause they say they think his bill doesn’t have a chance in a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate.

“The point is it can­not pass. Not with Trump in of­fice,” said Aman Kapoor, the leader of Im­mi­gra­tion Voice, an ac­tivist group that backed the orig­i­nal legislatio­n and has led a week­s­long cam­paign against Durbin, call­ing him a “racist” and ac­cus­ing him of “eth­nic cleans­ing” for stop­ping the Fair­ness for High-Skilled Im­mi­grants Act. “You can’t add one green card now un­der Trump.”

A green card is the fi­nal step in the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion process — be­fore be­com­ing a U.S. cit­i­zen — and the gov­ern­ment doles out about 1 mil­lion per year, 140,000 of which are em­ploy­ment­based.

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/WASH­ING­TON POST

Skilled im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing doc­tors and en­gi­neers, rally in 2007 on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton to protest long de­lays in get­ting green cards. Now, the de­lays are longer than ever.

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