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Understanding the New Immigration Bill

Applicants for green cards based on employment petitions may not have too many reasons to be elated by the immigration bill recently passed by the United States House of Representatives on Nov. 30. For one, they may experience more delays if the recent bill is passed into law.

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (FHSIA), proposes to (1) eliminate the numerical limit for employment-based immigrants and (2) increase the per-country limit for family-based petitions. But what is the actual impact of this bill to aspiring Filipino immigrants to the US?

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The Visa Allocation System

The US Department of State allocates only a certain number of visas each year as provided by law. Each country is allocated a cap of seven percent of the total number of visas available. For the family-based petition, if there are 226,000 available visas for a given year worldwide, each nation is allocated seven percent or 15,820 visas.

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Overflow visa petitions result in backlogs—meaning a long wait for those countries which file more petitions.

India, China, Mexico and the Philippines are among the many countries that suffer severe backlogs in visa petitions. Filipinos suffer the most backlogs in family petitions especially the fourth preference  petition on behalf of brothers or sisters where wait can be as long as 23 years.

In employment petitions, Filipinos experience backlogs in third preference petitions where the wait can be as long as six or seven years. These include petitions on behalf of professionals like nurses, physical therapists and engineers.

It is important to note that nationals of India and China suffer the most backlogs in employment petitions while Philippines and Mexico are the countries which have the most backlogs in family petitions.

The Proposed Changes

The new bill was passed by the House on Nov. 30. It is not yet a law until it is also approved by the Senate and signed by the President. One of the proposals is to eliminate the cap on numerical limitations on employment-based immigrant visa petitions. The seven percent cap for each country will gradually be eliminated without increasing the total available visas. The effect of this is that the countries with the most backlogs, such as China and India, will be eased of the longer wait. This will result in non-backlogged countries to experience temporary retrogression while China and India’s backlog problems are addressed. This is the reason why the bill is seen as favoring nationals only from China and India and not the Philippines.

The Family Based Visas

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Of course the Philippines and Mexico will be favored by the provision that will increase the cap for family petitions. But note that only caps on employment petitions are eliminated. Family based petitions will still maintain the per country quota but the quota will be increased from seven to 15 percent.

If FHSIA or HR 3012 is passed into law, the backlog in family petitions of Filipinos will be reduced. Priority dates will be advanced, especially for first and second preference petitions. The 23 years wait for fourth petitions may be reduced but it is too soon to determine how fast it will advance.

Too Early to Rejoice

The FHSIA bill is seen as a small step in the right direction. But it simply re-arranges the order of the green card application queue and averages the amount of time between green card backlogged countries and non-backlogged countries. For those awaiting for their visa petitions to be processed, it is too early to rejoice the passage of FHSIA. If eventually, it passes into law, Filipino visa applicants will win some and lose some in the process.

(Tancinco may be reached at [email protected] or at 887 7177 or 721 1963)

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TAGS: Green card, Immigration, Legislation, United States, US
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