Legislative Update: Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act and the RELIEF Act

Two bills have been introduced into Congress that could have a major impact on immigrant visa ("green card") backlogs. Congress is currently considering the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act and the RELIEF Act, information on which follows:

Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act is intended to reduce visa backlogs, which were estimated to be over four million in May 2019, for skilled workers from large countries.

Because of the current per country limits (which prohibit individual nations from receiving more than seven percent of the total available green cards in a single year), the backlogs affect visa-seekers from India at a much more significant rate.

The Cato Institute estimates that it will take almost 49 years to process the entire current Indian backlog, while those from many other countries have almost no wait.

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act would eliminate the per country caps on employment-based visas and instead grant them on a first-come, first-serve basis. It would increase the family-sponsored per country cap from seven percent to 15 percent, as well.

According to the National Immigration Forum, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act would:

  • Significantly lower the visa backlogs allowing many immigrants to gain permanent residence faster and more easily
  • Increase wait times for those seeking visas from lower-demand countries

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 1044) received bipartisan support and passed in the House by an overwhelming 365-65 margin in mid-July. The bill then moved to the Senate, where it has so far been blocked.

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act has been backed by some key supporters, including Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"Immigrants make this country stronger and our economy more dynamic," Cook wrote on Twitter in mid-October. "As a first step toward needed comprehensive reform, I urge the Senate to move quickly to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act. The contributions of these workers are critical to America’s future."

Others, meanwhile, argue that the bill would principally transfer the backlog onto visa-seekers from smaller countries, unnecessarily adding to their wait times.

RELIEF Act

The RELIEF Act, introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in mid-October, shares some similarities with the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, but with distinct differences.

This proposed bill will also, eventually, eliminate the employment-based per-country limits and more than double the family-sponsored per-country cap from seven percent to 15 percent.

The RELIEF Act, however, will increase the number of green cards issued each year, while the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act leaves that amount unchanged.

According to the Cato Institute, the RELIEF Act will:

  • Phase out the per-country limits over five years for employment-based green cards
  • Exempt spouses and minor children of primary applicants from the green card limits
  • "Virtually double" the total amount of legal immigrants receiving permanent residence

The RELIEF Act has been blocked in the Senate and, per the assessment of the Cato Institute, "has little chance" of becoming law. The Institute notes, "it is not likely that it will receive the bipartisan commitment needed to pass."

What’s next

Both bills have stalled in the Senate.

But, in late October, Durbin, Leahy and eight other senators — Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) — penned a letter to John Cornyn (R-TX), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, urging him to hold hearings about legislation to address green card backlogs.

"One of the most serious problems in our immigration system is that prospective immigrants are stuck in green card backlogs for many years," the letter read, in part. "These backlogs harm our economy and are a hardship on families who are caught in immigration limbo.

"A hearing before the Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration to receive testimony from experts and impacted communities will help the Senate advance bipartisan legislation that meaningfully and thoughtfully addresses green-card backlogs."

Cornyn had not responded to the letter as of Nov. 1.

Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm continues to monitor the situation closely and will reach out and advise as it impacts our clients.

As always, please do not hesitate to call us at 704-442-8000 or contact us via email with any questions.

Make sure to sign up for our newsletter and client alerts to receive the most up-to-date information.