Reps Curtis, Lofgren introduce bipartisan legislation to eliminate arbitrary per-country limits on employment-based visas

Today, Congressman John Curtis (R-UT) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced H.R. 3648, the Equal Access to Green cards for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act of 2021, a bill that will benefit the U.S. economy by allowing American employers to focus on hiring immigrants based on their merit, not their birthplace. H.R. 3648 phases out the 7% per-country limit on employment-based immigrant visas. The bill also raises the 7% per-country limit on family-sponsored visas to 15%. Its predecessor, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, passed the House in the 116th Congress with a resounding bipartisan vote of 365 to 65.

Rep. Curtis said, “The 2020 census showed that Utah has the fastest-growing state in the nation—in no small part due to the major growth and innovation in the technology sector, bringing thousands of new jobs to the state. At the same time, Utah is tied for the lowest unemployment rate in the country, leaving many companies to rely on foreign workers and navigate our complicated immigration system when there is a shortage of American’s seeking these positions. The bipartisan EAGLE Act will create a more fair employment-based visa system by eliminating per-country limitations and creating a first-come, first-served system focused on merit instead of country of origin, making it easier for Utah’s businesses to expand and compete globally.”

“We all know that our immigration system is severely broken, and it has been broken for decades,” said Rep. Lofgren, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. “The basic framework for allocating immigrant visas dates back to the middle of the 20th century and was last seriously updated in 1990, when Congress established the worldwide numerical limits on visas and the 7% per-country cap that still exists today. Over time, these limitations have led to backlogs that were unimaginable in 1990. The effect has been that countries with relatively small populations are allocated the same number of visas as a relatively large-population country. The result? A person from a large-population country with extraordinary qualifications who could contribute greatly to our economy and create jobs waits behind a person with lesser qualifications from a smaller country. It makes no sense. Because of this, we are now seeing recruiters from outside America luring those with the highest skills away from the U.S. That hurts our economy. The bipartisan EAGLE Act moves our country toward a system that de-emphasizes birthplace and better serves America. Simply put, it will allow U.S. companies to focus on what they do best – hiring smart people to create products and services, which creates jobs in our districts.”

Background

The employment-based visa system provides permanent residence (or “green cards”) to individuals whose work contributes to U.S. economic growth and enhances our competitive advantage. To qualify, a sponsoring employer generally must advertise and prove that they are unable to find a qualified U.S. worker to fill the position. Thus, although America’s employment-based visa system starts out as “merit based,” what happens next has nothing to do with merit or skills—visas are allocated based on the intending immigrant’s country of birth.

Approximately 95% of employment-based immigrants currently live and work in the United States on temporary visas while waiting for a visa to become available. Some of these individuals remain in temporary status for many years, if not decades, because of the caps applied to their country of nationality. The new, phased-in system, established in the bipartisan EAGLE Act, would help ease the backlog for those who wait the longest.

Like the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that passed the House in July 2019, the bill:

  • phases out the 7% per-country cap for employment-based immigrant visas; and
  • raises the 7% per-country limit on family-sponsored visas to 15%.

Like the version of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that passed the Senate in December 2020, the bill:

  • includes a longer nine-year transition period to ensure that no countries are excluded from receiving visas while the per-country caps are phased out;
  • strengthens the H-1B temporary visa program; and
  • provides an option for individuals who have been waiting in the immigrant visa backlog for two years to file a green card application, although the application cannot be approved until a visa becomes available.

Click here for a section-by-section of the bipartisan EAGLE Act.

Click here for full text of the bipartisan EAGLE Act.