The US government has backed the ‘EAGLE’ Act which aims to phase out per-country caps on employment-based immigrant visas.
Last week, the White House issued a statement supporting the bill before the US House of Representatives votes on it.
On Wednesday (14 December), the bill was pulled from consideration on the House floor due to huge opposition, which prompted the bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, to write to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing “great disappointment”.
If the bill gets a green signal whenever it is tabled next, it could benefit several skilled Indian workers vying for a US Green Card.
What is a US Green Card? What is the ‘EAGLE’ Act and how will it benefit Indians? We explain.
Green Card, or Permanent Resident Card, allows immigrants to live and work permanently in the United States.
It clears the path to US citizenship and also lets the holder sponsor immediate family members for the permanent resident card, notes Indian Express.
Not only the Green Card holders can choose their place of living in the US but also have wider career opportunities.
The Equal Access to Green Card for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act or HR 3648 will allow US employers to hire immigrants on the basis of “merit, not their birthplace”.
The bill intends to establish “a system where all equally qualified high-skilled workers, no matter their country of birth, will receive employment-based Green Cards in the order in which they apply and based solely on the skills they bring to America,” says its official website.
The bill will also increase the limit on family-based visas from 7 per cent to 15 per cent.
Business Standard reported citing the think tank Cato Institute that the proposed bill would raise the average wage of an employment-based immigrant by 12 per cent, from $95,534 to $107,126 per annum.
Endorsing the bill, the Office of Management and Budget (OM&B), the executive office of US president Joe Biden, said in a statement, “The administration supports efforts to improve our immigrant visa system and ease the harsh effects of the immigrant visa backlog”.
Further, quelling the fears that the bill will favour certain nationalities, the statement pointed out that the transition will take place over nine years so that “no countries are excluded from receiving visas while the per-country caps are phased out”, reported Times of India.
The office also said that during the transition periods, some visas would be reserved for physical therapists and nurses to meet the demands of the healthcare sector, and “for employment-based immigrants and their family members who are not currently in the United States”, reported Indian Express.
Need for EAGLE Act
One of the goals of the EAGLE Act is to resolve the major issue of the green card processing backlog.
Many of the high-skilled foreign workers are H1-B visa holders, which allows them to live and work in the US for a maximum of six years. During this period, they have to find an employer who will file an employment-based green card application on their behalf, as per The Quint report.
But the green card process is “infamously complex”, notes The Quint.
The limit of green card allotment annually depends on the country of birth of an immigrant, not their nationality. As per the law, any country is eligible for up to 7 per cent of green cards per year.
This cap adversely affects skilled workers from large population countries such as China and India.
The US makes approximately 1,40,000 employment‐based green cards available every year, but due to the per-country cap, the backlog of applications has reached millions.
CATO Institute’s report this year said that the majority of these backlogged immigrants – 82 per cent – are Indians.
The think tank also highlighted that for certain H1-B categories, “Indian applicants (those with a master’s or bachelor’s degree) filing this year face a wait of about 90 years”, reported The Quint.
David Bier, associate director of Immigration Studies, CATO Institute, said as per The Quint that “about 2,15,000 petitions will expire as a result of the death of the immigrant before their green card arrives, and more than 99 per cent of these deaths will be of Indians.”
The 2020 CATO report had mentioned that 75 per cent of the employment‐based backlog consisted of skilled Indian workers.
As per the data released by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in July, approximately 3,70,000 Indians — most of whom came in the professionals and skilled workers category — were awaiting visa availability. These workers were eligible for Green Cards.
Addressing the backlog issue, the statement by the executive office of the US president stated, “HR 3648 also includes important provisions to allow individuals who have been waiting in the immigrant visa backlog for two years to file their green card applications. Although the applications could not be approved until a visa becomes available, this would allow employment based immigrants to transition off of their temporary visas and provide them with additional flexibilities in changing employers or starting a business”.
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Reaction to the bill
It has received a mixed response.
Immigration Voice, which describes itself on Twitter as a “national grassroots non-profit organization working to alleviate the problems faced by legal high-skilled future Americans”, has strongly supported the bill.
Those opposing the bill are also equally vocal.
The critics say the bill will be disadvantageous for Americans.
“It will allow most temporary foreign guest workers sponsored for an employment-based green card to stay and work in the US, permanently, taking tens of thousands of job opportunities from American workers,” NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation said in a tweet.
However, these concerns have been clarified in the bill.
If EAGLE Act is enforced, employers seeking foreign workers will have to “advertise the jobs to American workers on a searchable Department of Labor website for at least 30 calendar days”, so US citizens get the first opportunity at the job.
Moreover, the Act will make it illegal for jobs to be advertised as “only available to H-1B workers”, thus ensuring that H-1B workers would not be preferred over American employees.
With inputs from agencies