July 25, 2011, 9:25 AM — The negotiations to strike a deal on the debt ceiling may be getting all the attention in Congress, but there are also new efforts by lawmakers to address high-skill immigration issues.
First, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have circulated a discussion draft of a bill that would eliminate the per-country caps on green cards, according to a copy of the document seen by Computerworld. This proposal may well amount to the GOP alternative to a Democratic plan offered in June by Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose district includes Silicon Valley.
The federal government sets a cap of 140,000 employment-based green cards a year, but it now limits the number of green cards per country to no more than 7% of the available visas to people from any one country. This limit has meant that for people from countries where green card demand is high, namely India and China, the wait for a green card can exceed six years.
In a second development, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, will hold a hearing Tuesday on "The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform." Judging from the initial announcement of those scheduled to testify, it appears that the hearing will feature proponents of high-skill immigration.
Among those due to testify are Robert Greifeld, CEO of Nasdaq OMX Group; David Skorton, president of Cornell University; Brad Smith, Microsoft 's general counsel; and Puneet Arora, vice president of Immigration Voice, an advocacy group for increased skills-based immigration.
In regard to the Republican effort, the tech industry has pitched elimination of the per-country green card caps before, but this approach is not without controversy.
While eliminating the cap could reduce wait times for Indian and Chinese workers, many of whom may be on H-1B visas and are seeking green cards, it could also increase the wait times for applicants from other countries with lower green-card demand.
In its current iteration, the Republican discussion draft's focus on per-county green card caps is far more limited than Lofgren's bill, which seeks to make green cards available to students who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM fields) from approved U.S. schools, as well to foreign entrepreneurs who create new businesses .