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Green card for aliens with advanced US degrees mooted

By Lalit K Jha
April 30, 2010 15:14 IST
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AmericaTo attract the world's 'best and the brightest', a group of top Democratic Senators today proposed immediate Green Cards for foreigners with advanced degrees from US institutes and job offers, a good news for India which sends a large number of students to the US.

At the same time, they have proposed tightening of rules for H-1B and L1 visas, which are also most popular among Indian technology professionals.

The proposals being put forward by a coalition of powerful Democratic Senators are aimed at fixing the country's broken immigration system.

President Barack Obama has also called for a comprehensive immigration reform and identified this as one of his top priorities.

The proposals 'will reform America's high-skilled immigration system to permanently attract the world's best and brightest while preventing the loss of American jobs to temporary foreign labour contractors,' said a report drawn by Senators Charles E Schumer, Harry Reid and Bob Menendez.

At the moment, high-skilled workers are prevented from emigrating to the US due to restrictive caps on their entry, says the 26-page conceptual proposal for immigration reform.

"In order to accomplish this goal, a Green Card (permanent residency) will be immediately available to foreign students with an advanced degree from a United States institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and who possess an offer of employment from a United States employer in a field related to their degree," it says.

Given that India is among the countries sending maximum number of higher studies students in the field of science, mathematics, engineering and technology to the US; it is expected to benefit the most.

Under the current system, Indian have to wait for several years -- some time even around a decade -- to get the coveted Green Card, which is a step short of citizenship.

"Foreign students will be permitted to enter the United States with immigrant intent if they are a bona fide student so long as they pursue a full course of study at an institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics," the proposal said.

"To address the fact that workers from some countries face unreasonably long backlogs that have no responsiveness to America's economic needs, this proposal eliminates the per-country employment immigration caps," it said.

At the same time, the Senators proposed tightening of the rules for H-1B and L1 visas.

Noting that their proposal also adds fraud and abuse protections for existing temporary high-skilled work visas, the Senators said it will amend current law regarding H-1B employer application requirements.

It will revise wage determination needs; require Internet posting and description of employment positions; lengthen US worker displacement protection; apply certain requirements to all H-1B employers rather than only to H-1B dependent employers; prohibit employer advertising that makes a position available only to, or gives priority to, H-1B non-immigrant; and limit the number of H-1B and L-1 employees that an employer of 50 or more workers in the United States may hire.

The proposal also authorises the Department of Labour to investigate applications for fraud and conduct H-1B compliance audits. DOL will also be required to conduct annual audits of companies with large numbers of H-1B workers and initiate H-1B employer application investigations.

Penalties for employers who violate the law will be increased. For L-1 visas, the proposal prohibits, with a specified waiver by the secretary of Homeland Security, an employer from hiring an L-1 non-immigrant for more than one year who will serve in a capacity involving specialised knowledge and be stationed primarily at the work site of an employer other than the petitioning employer.

The proposal also specifies for L-1 -- employer petition requirements for employment at a new office; wage rates and working conditions; and employer penalties.

DHS will be authorised to initiate investigations of L-1 employers suspected of being non-compliant with the law.

It shall also report to Congress regarding the L-1 blanket petition process.

This proposal also authorises the creation of the Commission on Employment-Based Immigration, which shall have the purpose of studying America's employment-based immigration system to recommend policies that promote economic growth and competitiveness while minimising job displacement, wage depression and unauthorised employment.

Each year, the Commission shall publish a report to Congress detailing all relevant economic data surrounding the usage of all of America's employment-based visas and green cards and shall issue recommendations.

The Commission shall have the power to declare an emergency in immigration system.

An emergency shall consist of a situation in which America's employment-based immigration system is either substantially failing to admit a sufficient number of workers for the needs of the American economy or is substantially admitting too many foreign workers, leading to significant job displacement and/or wage depression in the American workforce.

"If the Commission declares that an emergency exists, the Commission shall recommend proposed adjustments in the employment-based immigration system to remedy the emergency. Congress shall then be required to vote on whether to enact the Commission's recommendations or to disapprove of enactment of the Commission's recommendations," the proposal said.

The Senators said their proposal will also reform America's Green Card system to ensure efficiency and equity in legal immigration to the United States.

It authorises the recapture of immigrant visas lost to bureaucratic delay.

The family immigration backlog will be cleared over the course of eight years. "After eight years, the current numeric caps on the family preference categories would remain the same as in current law," the proposal said.

Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents will be classified as 'immediate relatives' to promote the efficient reunification of families.

To address the fact that some countries face unreasonably long backlogs, the per country family immigration limits will be amended from 7 to 10 per cent of total admissions, the proposal said.

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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