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Thread: Senate Push to Speed Up Green Card Backlog Stalls

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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Senate Push to Speed Up Green Card Backlog Stalls

    Senate Push to Speed Up Green Card Backlog Stalls

    Bill to lift per-country caps on permanent residency, long sought by Indian and Chinese immigrants, fails to bypass roll-call vote

    Jay Indurkar with his nine-year-old son, Aayush, in their Overland Park, Ks., home on Aug. 11. Mr. Indurkar had backed a legislative effort to ease the backlog of employment-based green cards. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER SMITH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    By Michelle Hackman and Lindsay Wise
    Updated Sept. 19, 2019 4:56 pm ET

    WASHINGTON—A bipartisan bill in the Senate that aimed to speed up employment-based green cards for some Indian and Chinese immigrants caught in a yearslong backlog failed to pass Thursday.

    Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah.), sponsor of the bill—which would remove per-country caps on permanent residency for immigrants who have job offers in the U.S.—had attempted to pass the resolution using a procedure called unanimous consent, which allows bills to bypass roll-call votes. Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.) blocked it.

    Mr. Perdue said on the chamber’s floor Thursday that he supports the bill but wants some language clarified, adding that he is concerned about its impact on specific industries. “I want to work with Senator Lee in addressing these concerns and come to a resolution very quickly,” Mr. Perdue said.

    Sen. Mike Lee, who sponsored the bill, had attempted to pass the measure using a roll-call vote. Fellow Republican Sen. David Purdue blocked it. PHOTO: ALEX EDELMAN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

    At issue are a few specialty professions that rely on immigrant labor—particularly the nursing sector, which draws heavily from the Philippines—and would see their wait times for green cards extended under the bill.

    Under current U.S. law, no more than 7% of employment-based green cards can be issued to any one country. Critics of that approach in both parties say that allotting the same number of green cards to each country gives an advantage to those applying from smaller nations while penalizing Indian and Chinese applicants who qualify but must wait years for their turn because they are in larger pools of applicants.

    Mr. Lee’s bill would allow people who have waited longest in the queue for permanent residency to get it first. In July, the House passed a similar bill with a wide bipartisan margin.

    “There’s no justifiable cause for delay. We will continue to work on it. I wish we could pass it today, because it’s ready,” Mr. Lee said.

    The proposed change pits industries against each other as they seek to expedite permanent residency for workers they say they need. The problem stems in part from the fact that the U.S. approvals of green-card applicants vastly exceed the number of available green cards that are actually distributed, which total about 1.1 million annually. While there are no limits to how many applicants can be approved, there is a fixed overall number of green cards issued by the State Department.

    Congress is unlikely to agree to raise that total. Republicans, who have resisted such efforts for years, might be willing to increase the percentage of employment-based green cards only in exchange for a reduction in family-based or diversity green cards, a trade-off Democrats would oppose.

    Technology companies including Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have lobbied Congress to pass Mr. Lee’s bill to help software engineers and other workers, many from India, who are stuck in the backlog. Also pushing for the bill is Immigration Voice, a nonprofit social-welfare group founded by Indian immigrant workers.

    “We believe this bill is very simple and very powerful, and every objection to this bill will be overcome,” said Leon Fresco, counsel for Immigration Voice.

    But the American Hospital Association and AMN Healthcare, a health-care staffing agency, oppose the bill because they believe it would dramatically increase the wait time for green cards for other foreign workers, particularly nurses from the Philippines. All of Us, a group representing graduate students and skilled workers who need green cards, also oppose it.

    Mr. Lee had faced internal Republican opposition on the bill, primarily from Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), who echoed the hospitals’ concerns.

    Messrs. Lee and Paul struck a deal Wednesday, setting aside 5,000 green cards for specialty professions—widely understood to benefit nurses from the Philippines. The AHA soon opposed that deal, saying it didn’t grant enough green cards.

    “We appreciate Senator Paul’s efforts, but this falls short of the minimum number needed to address the shortage of American nurses,” said Bruce Morrison, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who now lobbies for the AHA.

    Mr. Lee’s unanimous-consent request was delayed for more than an hour as GOP senators huddled in the cloakroom attempting to work out a last-minute deal. Outside in the Senate gallery, dozens of Indian immigrants waited, many with their children.

    Later, when Mr. Perdue announced his objection on the Senate floor, the immigrants were mostly silent, but some put their heads in their hands or covered their eyes.

    “We really thought today was the day,” said Vikram Desai, vice president of Immigration Voice and a Philadelphia product consultant who has lived in the U.S. legally for 16 years, nine of them in the green-card backlog.

    Corrections & Amplifications
    An earlier version of this article misspelled Sen. David Perdue ’s surname as Purdue. (Sept. 19, 2019)


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