Think that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress will never be able to agree about immigration policy?
Better think again!
When I started working as an immigration attorney, Jerry Ford was the President of the United States. Over the past 35 years, I have seen the two parties unite to pass dozens of immigration laws.
Yes, I know the parties are so divided on the issue of what to do about the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. that they couldn't even get together a few weeks ago to pass the DREAM Act.
However, when it comes to reforming the legal immigration system, things are very different. The parties have come together to pass dozens of bills providing immigration benefits including the Child Status Protection Act in 2002, the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Reauthorization Act in 2005, the Physicians for Underserved Areas Act in 2007, and the bill that ended the Widow's Penalty in 2009.
So, what's on tap for 2011?
On January 6, 2011, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced H.R. 43, a bill which would "amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the diversity immigrant program and to re-allocate those visas to certain employment-based immigrants who obtain an advanced degree in the United States."
In simple English, the bill would eliminate the annual green card lottery and give the 55,000 green cards each year to foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in the sciences or in medicine.
With the employment-based second preference category (EB-2) backlogged for many years for persons born in India and mainland China, our country would benefit greatly if 55,000 more green cards were available annually for highly-educated people.
Sure, the bill could be tweaked to provide that the green cards could be given to anyone with an advanced degree, not just those with degrees from U.S. universities. Unused numbers should drop down to help those waiting in the EB-3 category. Also, the bill could be amended to increase or eliminate country quotas in the employment-based categories.
For many years, our country imported over 100,000 persons annually on H-1B temporary professional visas. Congress raised the H-1B quotas, but did not expand the employment-based preference numbers. The result was that hundreds of thousands of highly-educated immigrant workers came legally to the U.S., were sponsored by their U.S. employers for green cards, met all the qualifications and jumped through all the legal hoops, and are now stuck in lines that can only be measured not in years, but in decades.
If the United States wants to remain the world leader in the sciences, in medicine, in biotech and in information technology, we had better revise our immigration laws so that we continue to attract the world's best and brightest.
H.R. 43 is a step in the right direction.