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Senate passes bill to clear epic Green Card backlog

New York, Dec 4 (IANS) After more than a year of intense political tangling, the US Senate has passed a bill that lifts the existing per-country cap on the number of employment based permanent-residency permits or ‘Green Cards’ issued to legal immigrants, potentially paving the way for Indians waiting in decades-long lines to breathe easier.

But there’s a catch. Several, actually. It’s the Senate vs House lawmakers versioning problem.

Aparna Bhatnagar, an Indian living in Stamford, Connecticut who’s been in the “queue forever” places the developments in context.

“This version has to reconcile with the previous version that the House passed. It’s still a long way to go and by that time the new ruling party will take over. Let’s wait and watch,” she told IANS.

The “previous version” that Bhatnagar refers to is the ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act’ which passed the House of Representatives in 2019 in a 365 to 65 vote.

What passed the Senate late Wednesday night was a similar piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Lee (Republican, Utah), not the exact one passed by the House.

Senator Lee’s state Utah, incidentally, is the new magnet for the nearshoring business model in the US.

The Senate and the House bills will now have to be layered onto each other and a combo version will have to pass both the House and Senate before being sent over to the White House.

Current US rules limit any one country to 7 per cent of all employment-based green cards.

Indians make up more than 600,000 of those whose paperwork is approved but are waiting.

The State Department awards about 140,000 Green Cards a year but does not have caps on how many applications get approved each year – creating a demand supply asymmetry that puts millions of legal immigrants on a perpetual waitlist.

“It is indeed a great decision by the Senate. Fingers crossed because the House has to pass the bill with the added amendments,” Rashi Bhatnagar, an Atlanta resident told IANS.

The swirling anxiety centres around the carve outs in the Senate version of the bill, coming from various Republican Senators opposed to the legislation in its current avatar.

Senator Rand Paul (Republican, Kentucky) has inserted provisions for nurses from the Philippines and is demanding new restrictions on firms that employ 50 per cent workers on H1B visas.

Senator Rick Scott (Republican, Florida) added two more into the mix: A new limit for the next 10 years on the overall number of immigrants on H1-B visas who can receive Green Cards and another which could slash immigration from China.

“While I recognize the sincerity of all members and senators struggling to find solutions, unfortunately the provisions sent to the House by the Senate yesterday most likely make matters worse, not better,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, who sponsored the House bill.

“S.386 passed the Senate with unanimous consent, which means all 100 Senators agreed to this bill. This shows that this immigration bill has huge bipartisan support,” said Anirban Das, who leads Skilled Immigrants in America (SIIA), a non-profit.

“The bill is almost at the finish line. I sincerely hope Representative Zoe Lofgren can work out a compromise and finally pass this bill.”

Das, who has been through the Green Card grind himself, leaned on Senator Lee’s remarks that birth country caps in Employment based immigration are “racist and un-American”.

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