De Leon: Rare Feat of Bipartisanship Blocked by Leading Republican Senator

Visa applicants at the US Consulate in India American Center in Mumbai

Visa applicants at the U.S. Consulate in India. (Photo: American Center in Mumbai)

Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3012, The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011, on a vote of 389-15 – a rare feat of bipartisanship for a House better known for its brinkmanship and impasse. Sponsored by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill had six Democratic co-sponsors including the outspoken immigrant advocate Luis Guitiérrez.

H.R. 3012 amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the per country limit for employment-based visas granted to high-skilled foreign workers. Currently, no more than 7 percent of the 140,000 visas available annually can be given to immigrants from any given country. The bill eliminates this per country percentage cap though it does not raise the total number of employment-based visas. Advocates of increasing the cap–including many on Silicon Valley–say that it will prove an asset to the American economy and decrease the number of immigrants who sneak into or remain in the country illegally.

But Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, blocked the bill on Tuesday, claiming it does not protect Americans workers, especially at a time of high unemployment.

“I have concerns about the impact of this bill on future immigration flows, and am concerned that it does nothing to better protect Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs during this time of record high unemployment,” Grassley said.

Tamar Jacoby, President and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, plead her case for the bill in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday:

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is not a broad, far-reaching bill. It’s nothing like the comprehensive overhaul Congress has been debating for years. It doesn’t add more slots for would-be immigrants. It makes only a small, surgical tuck in the nation’s complex immigration code, phasing out quotas on the number of legal permanent residents who can be admitted in any given year from a single country. But this small change could have significant consequences, for thousands of immigrants and for the politics of immigration.

Phasing out the caps would dramatically reduce waits for many of the highly skilled workers America needs to remain a globally competitive knowledge economy. American companies will find it easier to hire researchers, engineers and other top talent from the big countries that produce most of the brainpower they rely on to do business. The U.S. will become a more attractive destination for foreign innovators and entrepreneurs. And they in turn will help create jobs for Americans, a much-needed boost for economic recovery.

The legislation also increases the cap on per country family visas to 15 percent of the total number of family-sponsored visas given out. This will help reunite families that have been separated for decades due to the protracted family reunification immigration process. In particular, people from high-immigration countries including Mexico, the Philippines, China and India will benefit. Because of the cap, many would-be immigrants from those countries have waited up to as long as two decades to be reunited with spouses, children, parents, and other family members living legally in the U.S.

The House’s passage of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is a feat in itself and can only benefit America. It is unfortunate that Senator Grassley has chosen to block progress.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.