TIME IS running out on prospects for passage of badly needed immigration reform legislation. If the House Judiciary Committee doesn't report a bill to the floor before the August recess, this major bill may have to be abandoned once again. Current law governing the allocation of immigrant visas has been on the books for 25 years and no longer reflects world conditions or American needs. A revision has been passed by the Senate four times -- most recently last July -- and every time it has been stalled in the House.

The objective of reformers is to increase the overall number of immigrant visas available, while allotting some of the new places to those who may not have close relatives here but who have skills that are needed in this country. Because of the emphasis on family reunion in current law, visas are now overwhelmingly going to close relatives of recent arrivals, primarily Asians and Latin Americans. Not only does this cut out skilled workers and professionals, it also puts at a disadvantage would-be immigrants from Europe, source of most of this country's earlier immigration.

House immigration subcommittee chairman Bruce Morrison promised to put the Senate-passed bill on a fast track, but two factors contributed to a slowdown. Rep. Morrison is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor of Connecticut and has spent more than the usual amount of time this year in his home state. He has also proposed a complicated new provision that has required extensive debate and compromise. He is concerned about the possible displacement of American workers by immigrants and wants to tax employers who hire newcomers to create a fund for retraining Americans who lose their jobs. While the objective is worthy, the entire immigration reform bill should not be allowed to sink because of uncertainty about this one provision.

Because the immigration situation changes rapidly in the United States, the Senate bill requires the president and Congress to reexamine visa allocations every three years. If changes similar to the ones proposed by the Senate bill create problems, adjustments can be made on schedule. But unless a bill is passed by the House, the skewed and less generous system now in force will be continued indefinitely.