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Posted at 02:16 PM ET, 10/06/2011

Lawmakers hear testimony on immigration as study finds Indians may wait 70 years for green cards


Lawmakers attend a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Oversight on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. (Photograph taken using Instagram) (Emi Kolawole)
Two new reports from the non-profit, Virginia-based National Foundation for American Policy finds that highly skilled immigrants from India sponsored today on the most common employment-based visa could wait 70 years for a U.S. green card.

The reports, released Wednesday, are based on data from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The authors also spoke with attorneys and government officials. The study comes as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Oversight held a hearing Wednesday afternoon to cover U.S.-educated immigrants’ growing desire to return to their home countries.

According to the study titled “Waiting and more waiting: America’s family and Employment-based immigration system,” (PDF) an Indian in the U.S. under an EB-2 visa could wait for as long as eight years before being accepted for a green card, while Indians under the EB-3 visa category could be left waiting as long as 70 years. Chinese immigrants under the EB-3 category, by comparison, could wait 20 years. The report recommends exemptions for 50,000 advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates in order to get rid of the backlog in the EB-2 category, bringing that category up to speed in three years and potentially catching up in the EB-3 category in 10 years.

Meanwhile, the second report, titled “Keeping Talent in America,” (PDF) outlines the contributions of U.S.-educated immigrants and common misperceptions. These include the myth, according to the report, that the family members of green-card recipients automatically file for and are given permanent residency:

The wait times for sponsoring a close family member are long, in some cases extremely long. A U.S. citizen petitioning for an adult son or daughter from Mexico can expect to wait about 18 years. Some U.S. citizens petitioning for a brother or sister from the Philippines have waited since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, more than 20 years. In November 2010, the State Department tabulated a waiting list of more than 4.5 million close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

The report goes on to call the term “chain migration” — the sponsorship by an immigrant permanent resident of their family members — a “contrived term that seeks to put a negative light on a phenomenon that has taken place throughout the history of the country — some family members come to America and succeed, and then sponsor other family members.”

The report goes on to propose what it calls “small changes to the law,” which include:

1) Getting rid of the per-country limit for employment-based immigrants and “liberalizing it for family-sponsored immigrants.

2) Raising visa quotas and allowing unused visas from previous years to roll-over.

The report also addresses “diploma mills” — lower-quality education institutions that some fear would provide easy-access for immigrants to obtain green cards, if permanent residency became diploma-dependent. The report goes on to estimate that, if you exclude the social sciences and assume one dependent for each foreign national admitted, that, at the higher end, roughly 100,000 immigrants a year would receive a green card under the report’s advised exemption for immigrants who receive a master’s-level degree or higher in a STEM field.

During the Judiciary committee hearing, which was organized prior to the reports’ release, a panel of academics and professionals, including Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa (PDF), testified.

“We believe that a more direct path to obtaining a green card is optimal for these advanced degree innovators,” wrote Darla Whitaker, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Human Resources for Texas Instruments, in her submitted remarks. “A bill to increase the number of green cards available to graduates of U.S. universities holding advanced degrees in STEM would alleviate the long backlogs our innovators are stuck in, and would allow [Texas Instruments] and the semiconductor industry to recruit and retain top talent more competitively.”

Wadhwa echoed the sentiment in his earlier column for the Post, writing, “The U.S. is giving an unintentional gift to China and India by causing highly educated and skilled workers, frustrated by long waits for visas to return home. We are exporting our growth and competitiveness.”

But Lindsay Lowell, Director of Policy Studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, urged caution. “Uniquely innovative people are not common and policy should be selective,” he wrote in his statement, ”it should use incentives to admit immigrants who are the best and the brightest.”

Barmak Nassirian, Associate Executive Director for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), joined Lowell in urging Congress to take care in executing any changes to existing law. “The high market value of U.S. residency may indeed attract some of the world’s best and brightest to U.S. institutions, and thus improve the academic quality of American students and/or over-production of advanced degrees,” he wrote, “But there is also a distinct possibility that the rich immigration incentive may result in a displacement of qualified American students an/or over-production of advanced degrees.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, drew a clear distinction between the immigrant population as a whole and those who specializes in STEM-subject areas, saying during questioning, "I love poetry, but we're not trying to keep the poets here.”

Committee members’ questions and statements indicated their bipartisan solidarity when it came to bolstering U.S. competitiveness. However, they disagreed as to how best to go about it. “I think our immigration policy should be selfish,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), while Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) questioned Texas Instruments’ Whitaker about steps the company was taking to train Americans to fill available jobs.

“My focus is on what we can do to educate our citizens...we're way behind,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) “Enough is enough.” Waters went on to ask Whitaker — the only corporate professional on the panel — “Why don't you have your own private school?” Whitaker replied that the company did provide unaccredited training programs and was working with schools to introduce students to new technologies.

Committee members on both the right and the left showed a reluctance to increase the number of green cards and visas distributed, as unemployment continued to brush 10 percent in the U.S. And, prior to adjournment, it didn’t appear as if those waiting for green cards today had any reason to expect their wait times to change.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

Wadhwa | We need to stop America’s brain drain

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Has the U.S. lost the will to compete?

By  |  02:16 PM ET, 10/06/2011

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