Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley on Wednesday removed a huge barrier to legislation that could speed the doddering visa system for highly skilled immigration. He removed his "hold" on legislation that would ease the immense backlogs for applicants from India and China, home to many superskilled immigrants. President Obama has endorsed the bill, and ironically, so has the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives, which passed the bill last year.
The bill, termed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, would remove per-country quotas on permanent work visas. Under the current system, Iceland--a small country not known for producing highly skilled workers bound for the U.S.--gets allotted the same number of visas as China.
The legislation would not add to the overall number of available green cards, but it would speed processing for skilled immigrants who now face waits of up to 70 years on an endlessly renewing loop of temporary work visas. While on temporary visas, they can't change jobs or vote, and their spouses can't work.
Grassley had been the holdout in the Senate (although there may be others lurking behind him) keeping the bill from moving forward. He wanted the Senate to take up legislation that he and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin have been working on for years to reform the H-1B temporary visa program.
Both Durbin and Grassley worry that the H-1B program is rife with fraud, exploits foreign workers, and puts U.S. job seekers at a disadvantage. He lifted his objection to the green-card quota bill after he struck a deal with Democrats to include enhanced oversight and annual compliance audits to the H-1B program.
The bill is a very small piece of a much larger immigration puzzle that has stumped legislators for years. The variety of solutions that have been proposed in many areas have proven to be too hot to handle politically. The noncontroversial elements have been held hostage by the more difficult questions.
Grassley and other legislators involved in immigration have been negotiating for the better part of a year to find a way to put together a small bill that would rework the pre-country quotas on green cards and institute some H-1B changes.
They appear to have finally succeeded.