Rogie Legaspi, a teacher trainer in Baltimore, also is still in line for his green card, 20 years after first arriving from the Philippines.
Under the rules of their temporary work visas, Legaspi and Reddy are unable to change their employers or plan their lives beyond their work visa renewal about every two years. Despite their common frustration, these foreign-born professionals could find themselves on opposite sides of an increasingly nasty dispute among immigrants and their advocates over the proposed Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act.
The measure, which has stalled in the U.S. Senate, is aimed at addressing the badly clogged system that grants permanent residency permits, or green cards, to immigrants from around the world who work in the United States on temporary visas for high-skilled jobs.
But the proposal has gotten bogged down in a debate over assertions that it is unfair to Americans who may be seeking high-skilled jobs during the recession and that it favors workers from larger countries, especially India, over smaller and mid-size ones, such as the Philippines.
“Our intention was to create a recipe for success, not to pick a fight,” said Virginia resident Aman Kapoor, an Indian American and co-founder of Immigration Voice, a national advocacy organization that has aggressively promoted the bill.
Under current law, the U.S. government can issue 140,000 green cards each year to immigrants who have temporary work visas. Hundreds of thousands of foreign-born workers are recruited to this country as teachers, nurses, engineers and other professionals on such temporary visas, which must be renewed about every two years. They must be sponsored by an American company or public agency that is able to show that they cannot find an American worker who is able or willing to do such jobs.
But the slowness of the process has left a permanent backlog of hundreds of thousands of applicants, including many who have lived here for years on temporary visas. Many of the applicants come from a few Asian countries, led by India and China. But because the law also limits each country to 7 percent of the green cards, workers from smaller countries tend to get their green cards much faster.
The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act would change the rules of the game, eliminating the individual country limits and granting work-based green cards to qualified applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.
Supporters say the measure, which zipped through the House of Representatives in November with bipartisan support, would give people of all nationalities a more equal chance to attain permanent residency. But it unexpectedly screeched to a halt in the Senate last month, when Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) complained that the bill would do “nothing to protect Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs in this time of record-high unemployment.”