ABILL PASSED by the House of Representatives last month would grant a few thousand more green cards annually to Indian and Chinese engineers, software designers and scientists, mostly at the expense of Korean, Filipino and Mexican engineers, software designers and scientists. Since the legislation makes no overall change in the paltry number of green cards available, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled employees already working in the United States on short-term visas will remain backlogged in the system, in many cases waiting for more than a decade to become legal, permanent residents. That’s what passes for immigration reform in Congress these days.
We don’t mean to completely dismiss the legislation, which, though hung up in the Senate, seems to have a chance of passage there. Just about any measure that manages to attract bipartisan support on an issue as incendiary as immigration, as this one has, deserves hosannas.
In this case, the shuffle in employment-based green cards was pushed by Silicon Valley high-tech firms with large numbers of Indian and Chinese workers. Sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the legislation was balanced by a parallel tweak in the immigration quotas based on family ties, which will more than double the number of green cards issued annually to Mexicans and Filipinos — again, at the expense of other national groups. That made the deal attractive to Democrats and Latinos in Congress.
If the bill becomes law, the effect will be to level the waiting period for green cards among national groups, shifting it to a first-come-first-served system for highly skilled immigrants. That’s an improvement over the status quo, under which each immigrant feeder country was limited to a certain percentage of the total number of green cards for such workers.
But consider this: After a three-year transition, the waiting period in the most backlogged employment category — professional workers — will be about 12 years. And none of this makes a dent in the much larger problems of illegal and generally low-skilled workers already in this country, who comprise 5 percent of the national labor force.
The obvious conclusion is that the nation’s immigration system is badly broken. The 140,000 green cards available annually for skilled and professional workers — and that number includes their dependents — will remain woefully inadequate. That will drive highly trained and knowledgeable employees — even those with graduate degrees from U.S. universities — to America’s competitors. Washington’s inability to overhaul immigration policy also means that 11 million undocumented immigrants will continue to live and work in the shadows, sustaining farms, construction sites, hotels and restaurants. While Congress fiddles at the margins, immigrants, the lifeblood of America’s economy, continue to get a raw deal.