[Ireland] Proposed Legislation Threatens Employment-Based US Visa Access

Immigration legislation poised to threaten Ireland’s access to US employment-based immigrant visas has stalled in the Senate, The World News reports.

Earlier in the year, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 1044 / S. 386) was introduced and passed in the US House of Representatives. It has since made its way to the US Senate (all links via original reporting).

The official summary of the legislation says, “This bill increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from 7 per cent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 per cent and eliminates the 7 per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas. It also removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.

“The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY2020-FY2022, by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas. Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 per cent  shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country.”

 In the House of Representatives, at present, there are 311 cosponsors of the bill. 203 of them are Democratic, 108 are Republican. The bill has 34 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate.

Republican Senator Mike Lee attempted to pass the legislation by 'unanimous consent' after it reached the Senate. The Miami Herald characterised this as "essentially a voice vote" which "bypasses Senate procedure in an attempt to pass legislation quickly. But it fails if just one senator opposes holding a voice vote.” (link via original reporting)

The sole senator in opposition to the 'unanimous consent' vote was Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, who stalled the progress of the legislation.

The Miami Herald piece explains that 140,000 green cards are given out annually to foreign workers in the US. Each country can receive a maximum of 7 per cent of that figure - around 9,800 visas - under the current law.

With a significantly higher number of visa applicants annually than any other country, India has an extremely long waiting list. 

"The new law would do away with the 7 per cent per-country quota, and instead make the process first come, first served, with no maximum percentage of green cards assigned to any country. All countries would apply for the annual 140,000 green cards from the same bucket.

"If the bill passes, new applicants would have to stand in line behind the tens of thousands of Indian nationals already in the queue. According to the Cato Institute, last year there were about 370,000 Indian nationals, not including their spouses and children, in line for employment-based green cards."

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) has come out with strong opposition to the legislation because it threatens Irish workers' access to visas. AOH is the largest Irish American organisation in America. 

A spokesperson for AOH said, "In a nutshell, this bill would remove the 7 per cent cap on visas that a given country could receive, which would give a monopoly on employment-based immigration to Indian nationals for the next decade because of the backlog that the major Indian I.T. outsourcing firms have created."

On September 26 the AOH wrote a letter to Senate leaders, directly before Senator Durbin opposed unanimous consent, part of the letter said, “H.R. 1044 / S. 386 creates a monopoly of opportunity benefitting only certain nationals; it copper-fastens the ‘No Irish Need Apply’ sign which has shamefully hung on the Golden Door of American immigration for over five decades.

"The current cap on any one country receiving more than 7 per cent of available green cards was put in place to guard against the monopolization of the green card process by a few large countries. Even with the current cap, research shows that fear to be justified:

  • Of the H-1B petitions approved in FY 2017, 75.6 per cent of the beneficiaries were from India, followed by China, South Korea, and the Philippines; the rest of the world’s nations, including Ireland, did not even register for statistical tracking purposes. 

  • During the period from 2015 to 2017, one Indian I.T. Firm, HCL Technologies, received 10,432 H-1B visas and 310 L-1 visas. During that same period, the entire island of Ireland received only 372 visas through the Diversity Visa program. 

  • In the most recent Diversity Visa program, Ireland received 66 of an available 55,000 visas. To give perspective, this is only a quarter of the number of Medal of Honor recipients who list “Ireland” as their birthplace (257). 

“Since 1965, every immigration act passed under the guise of 'reform' and 'fairness' has disproportionately and adversely impacted Irish immigrants to the benefit of other nationals; H.R. 1044 / S. 386 would be yet another chapter in this sad legacy. 

“Throughout a proud history, Irish immigrants have asked nothing of America but an opportunity, which in gratitude they have repaid by contributing to every field of American endeavor."

The letter ends with a request for Senate leaders “to reject H.R. 1044/S. 386 and challenge your colleagues to deliver fairness to all, not just to some, in the U.S. Immigration process.