The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill eliminating country-specific caps on green card application numbers in a move that left most people wondering whether it was a real change in U.S. immigration policy or whether it was pure political posturing.

For while H.R. 3012, the so-called “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” would allow vastly greater numbers of highly-skilled applicants to make permanent residency claims, there is not likely to be any change in the actual numbers of green cards granted.

What this implies is that countries that were facing the highest demand-supply mismatch for green cards, among which India ranks first and China second, will see a benefit in terms of prospective green cards issuance, whereas the waiting time in the queue for smaller nations such as Iceland would jump significantly.

While some uncertainty remains in terms of what the Congress was trying to achieve through this halfway measure, further doubt emanates from the fact that it is only the Republican-controlled House that passed this bill and it would require the Democratic Senate’s and White House’s approval to become law.

Democrats are likely to ask how the bill would benefit Americans, given the poor economic climate and enduring job market weakness in the country. The bill, which passed in the House by a majority of 389 to 15 following a debate on Tuesday, was sponsored by Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah.

It aims to move away from the current law, under which immigrants from an individual country who are in the U.S. on an employment visa such as the H1-B cannot apply for more than seven per cent of the 140,000 green cards issued annually by the State Department.

Discussing the bill, Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, noted that the country caps applied in an identical manner to all countries regardless of population size and “Removing the caps will enable U.S. companies to retain more skilled immigrants from countries such as India and China, which have a surfeit of scientists and technologists eager to work in the U.S.”

Clarifying some of these matters Attorney Sheela Murthy, an immigration specialist, told The Hindu that H.R. 3012 does not provide additional visa numbers, which is what would be needed to fully address the employment-based visa backlogs.

“It simply puts everyone in any particular category in the same queue,” Ms. Murthy said, adding, “The net result would have to be something that is a mix of the most and least favourable cut-off date in any particular category.” For example, if EB3 rest of the world has a cut off date in 2006 and EB3 India has a cut off date in 2002, the legislation would result in an EB3 cut off date somewhere better than the 2002 date, but not as favourable as the 2006 date, she explained.

While such a movement in the visa dates would likely make the bill less favourable for nationals of all other countries other than India and China, there is no certainty as to how the Visa Bulletin cut off dates numbers would move forward if the bill were to pass into law.

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