Raising Per Country Immigration Caps

immigrants airportA Small Step Toward Reform: Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Raise Per Country Immigration Caps

An immigration bill introduced by Congressmen Lamar Smith and Jason Chaffetz and supported by Democrats may actually have a chance at passing in Congress. Scheduled for a mark up this week, the bill (H.R. 3012) would make small but significant changes to the way green cards are distributed by eliminating per country numerical limits on employment-based green cards and raising the limits on family-based green cards which go to immigrants from each country.

Currently, no single country can receive more than 7% of the total number of employment and family-based visas issued annually (620,000 combined). In other words, Belgium and Iceland can receive the same number of visas as Mexico and China. Since several countries send significantly more immigrants to the U.S. than others, this has led to large backlogs in the immigration system.

Unfortunately, HR 3012 will not add any new immigrant visas to the current system which is the fundamental problem facing our current legal immigration system. Instead, the bill would shift the distribution of available immigrant visas.  Nonetheless, in an environment where politics trumps the need for legislators to address tough issues, improving the immigration system, even a little, is a step in the right direction.

A new report from the National Foundation for American Policy documents the backlogs for immigrants waiting to receive their green cards. “Waiting and More Waiting: America’s Family and Employment-Based Immigration System” finds that “absent action by the President and Congress, the situation will grow worse, creating much hardship and weakening the competitiveness of U.S. companies.”

Based on government data, the authors estimate that a highly skilled Indian national sponsored for a 3rdpreference green card (professionals, skilled workers, other workers) today would wait 70 years for a green card. There are currently 210,000 or more Indians waiting in the 3rd preference, and only about 2,800 Indians can get a 3rd preference green card each year.

Making U.S. companies and workers wait 70 years equals a lot of wasted potential. While the Indian worker may already be in the U.S. on a temporary visa (such as an H-1B), the uncertainty of the situation, the inability of the spouse to work, the inability to get promoted, and other factors may cause the worker to leave the U.S. to work for the competition.

The authors also estimates that if the numerical per country limits were eliminated, the wait time for high-skilled immigrants from India and China would be reduced by several years, depending on the details of the reform. However, it would also mean that the backlogs for all other countries might increase by several years if it is not accompanied by other reforms including increasing the overall number of visas and ensuring that any unused visas may be used the following year.

michele waslinIt’s good to see Congress moving forward with much needed reforms to the legal immigration system. We can only hope that this bill is followed by reforms that will more directly address the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of our immigration system rather than simply making sure that they are more equitably distributed around the world.

Michele Waslin
Immigration Impact

Photo by Karin Lau.


  1. MdeG says

    Visa recapture is necessary, yes. I really don’t see the point of visa numbers going unused while people wait for years. And no, this wouldn’t increase the total number of visas available, it would just make the distribution more flexible. As a US citizen with a family member waiting in line, this strikes me as a good idea, although insufficient.

  2. George Santos says

    What politicians often don’t understand is that immigration policy has profound effect on the social structure our country (i.e chain immigration). Tweaking the rule of law that has been guarding America for many decades, without in-depth, thoughtful and careful considerations is futile.

    First, This bill is nothing but helping Indians and Chinese to get more visas at the cost of immigrants from other countries. One can easily reads and digests the statistics provided by various gov agencies that the majority of H1 workers are from India (60% +) , majority of employment based green card applicants are from India (60%+) . Majority of IT outsourcing are from India. One can draw the conclusion.

    Second, Why the per country limit will be eliminated at employment based category but not for family based category? Family based per country limit will be increased from 7% to 15%. This bill is cunningly crafted to grease the Latinos community and to get them on-board.

    Third, people applying for employment based green cards knew the 7% rules and laws way before they submit their applications. It is completely not fair for immigrants from non India/China countries who has been waiting in-line for 7 years to have to give up their slots to the Indians/Chinese. Changing rule in the middle of the game is not the America way. Indians and Chinese already get more than 7% because of the spillover rule.

    Fourth , if this bill is enacted , employment based green cards will only go to Indians and Chinese for the next 3-4 years

    HR-3012 is a ridiculous , half baked, thoughtless , ignorant immigration proposal that is only benefiting Indians and Chinese and the outsourcing /body shop IT companies who undermine US workers.

  3. Jack says

    Michelle, why are you so desperate to increase immigration? Sure, you’re paid to write this pro-business, anti-American worker propaganda, but why do you choose to do this kind of work? 620,000 new visas per year isn’t enough? While millions of Americans are out of work and losing their homes, you want to increase the number of people from other countries who can come here and undermine our fragile worker class jobs?

    Sure, I get it, you make big bucks pushing this agenda. I guess the better question is, why is a progressive site like this willing to publish your anti-American propaganda? And why do so many liberals believe you and fall in line supporting the big businesses that profit from this huge influx of people willing to work longer hours for lower wages? Do college students not understand that they’re not going to have a career when they graduate? They’ll be competing for low paid jobs because of the massive influx of immigrants for the past 20-30 years. Those few who do get the high paying jobs will be taxed to death paying for millions more poor people flooding the country.

    Progressives always say that the right wing votes against their own interests. Pushing for increased immigration is a perfect example of how the left wing is cutting it’s own throat.

  4. John Ryann says

    HR3012 is a coward and narrow minded approach towards fixing our legal immigration system.

    This bill does not fix the current backlog issue. HR 3012 will just move problems from the left pocket to the right pocket. It will give more visas to Indians and Chinese at the cost of immigrants from other countries. This bill is not about fairness or fixing, it is about spreading pain.

    Year after year , the 140,000 visas allotted towards employment based immigrants are not fully used. If we were to use all of the available visas we would not have the backlog issue.

    Visa recapture must be included in the bill.

  5. Cheriel Jensen says

    Immigration to the U.S. should stop. We have already exceeded our carrying capacity. Now our central valley, the nations’ vegetable, fruit and nut primary growing area is turning into housing. So where will we grow our fresh food? We have used so much water for urban and farming uses, we have virtually destroyed the San Francisco estuary.

    Millions of Americans are out of work.

    On what possible justification should we continue to overload the environment here and displace American workers? Not only must we stop all immigration, but people now here without permission should go home or be sent home now.

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