Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants ActView
UNEMPLOYMENT IN NOVEMBER
• 13.3 million: People unemployed in the U.S.
• 120,000: Number unemployed in architecture and engineering occupations.
• 150,000: Number unemployed in computer and mathematical occupations.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
BY THE NUMBERS
• 40: Percentage of 2010 Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or their children.
• 3.6 million: People employed worldwide by Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants -- the same as the population of Connecticut.
• $1.7 trillion: Money generated by Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants.
Source: Partnership for New American Economy
Raj Kashyap came to the United States in 1999. He's lived 10 of the years since in Chattanooga, bought a custom-made home and had a baby.
But the India native and information tech is still waiting to get his permanent residence card, known as a "green card." He's been waiting since 2002.
Backlogs for employment-based visas for high-skilled immigrants such as Kashyap led the U.S. House on Tuesday to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act.
Part of the act would allow more immigrants with special skills into the U.S. That would help countries like India and China, which have a lot more applicants than other countries.
After the House action, though, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley placed a hold on the bill.
"I'm concerned that it does nothing to better protect Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs during this time of record high unemployment," the Iowa Republican said in the Congressional Record.
A hold assures a bill doesn't get considered without due process. That could include a hearing in the Senate and a trip to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal immigration policy, according to his office.
No country is eligible for more than 7 percent of the 140,000 employment-based and 226,000 family-based permanent resident cards given each year.
But under the bill, employment-based cards would be issued on a first-come, first-served basis after a three-year transition and family-based caps would increase from 7 to 15 percent. The total number of green cards available would remain the same.
The backlog for employment-based visas for India and China is about 10 years right now.
Most of the area's U.S. representatives voted for the bill, which passed 389-15.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's spokesman said the Chattanooga Republican was among the yes votes.
"Chuck voted to end bureaucratic rules that were hampering our ability to compete in a high-tech, global economy," spokesman Jordan Powell said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., called the bill "a step in the right direction to improve legal immigration."
"American companies view all highly skilled immigrants as the same, regardless of where they are from. Our immigration policy should do the same," Graves said.
The family-based increase would help Mexicans and Filipinos the most. For people of Mexico applying through the highest category of family sponsorship -- unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens -- the government is processing applications submitted on April 8, 1993. The Philippines is processing applications submitted on March 1, 1997.
For Filipinos in the last category, brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, the wait has been more than 20 years. Applications submitted in Sept. 8, 1988, are just being processed.
But not everyone agrees that the country limits should be removed or raised.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., was one of two Tennesseans who voted against the bill in part because of the country-based cap increase for families.
"This has nothing to do with the original intent of the bill," DesJarlais wrote in an email.
"Second, this legislation fails to address the need to train American students to meet this nation's high-tech needs, spur innovation and create jobs in our economy," he wrote .
More native U.S. citizens are going into science and engineering, but the growth has not kept pace with employment, said Mark Regets, senior analyst at the National Science Foundation's Division of Science Resources Statistics.
And many nations have had very sharp increases in the number of people earning science and engineering degrees, he said.
"There is just much more capacity to do science and engineering everywhere in the world," he said.
The global economy is why local attorney Terry Olsen said a bill like this needs to pass.
"Someone who has a Ph.D. or master's is not the type of person we want to keep out of this country," he said.
Even if it affects a U.S. citizen in the short term, as some argue, that immigrant can help create jobs in future years, he said.
National companies such as eBay, Apple and AT&T and locally Alstom, Volkswagen and Hamilton Plastics were created by immigrants or children of immigrants.
Kashyap said he has entrepreneurial ambitions, but it's too risky to do something while he's waiting.
"If you don't get approved, you have to leave everything and go; you lose everything," said the 37-year-old who studied computer science in India.
Laura Herzog, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said "he believes our economy benefits when the best and brightest from around the world lawfully come to the U.S. and open or operate businesses that create jobs for Americans," but didn't say if he would vote for the bill.