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Eagle Act, deluged by opposition, fails to advance in House

The Eagle Act, which would have eliminated per-country caps for employment-based visas, failed to find enough support for passage and was pulled from consideration.

A bill that would have helped H-1B visa workers from India get green cards was so overwhelmed by the opposition that it was pulled Wednesday from consideration by U.S. House Democratic leadership before a vote could be held.

The bill's chief sponsor, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), sent a letter Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting the decision, requesting that she reconsider and bring the bill forward for a vote. But it's hard to see how Lofgren will get the votes for passage.

Republican leadership opposed the bill, and there was also dissent among Democrats, particularly from the Congressional Black Caucus.

The primary beneficiaries of the Eagle Act are high-skilled workers from India. No country gets more than 7% of the available employment-based permanent residency visas annually. A path for many of these workers is to first get an H-1B visa. Because of the 7% per-country cap, workers from India, who make up close to 75% of H1-B visa holders, can face wait times extending many years for a green card.

Removing the per-country cap created a first-come, first-serve line, which Lofgren argued was a "fair and equitable" approach. "Our immigration laws should treat everyone equally and should not discriminate based on a foreign national's country of birth," Lofgren said in her letter to Pelosi.

But opponents argued that the Eagle Act helps Silicon Valley firms, which Lofgren represents, while hurting other industries, such as healthcare.

Eliminating the per-country cap would mean that people from other countries would have much longer waits in a first-come, first-serve system. Many other countries do not reach the 7% annual cap.

The Eagle Act prompted some grassroots organizing by immigrants on both sides of the issue, including All of Us, a Los Angeles-based group that opposed the bill. The bill "will choke off green cards for healthcare and medical research, as well as skilled immigration from Africa, Mexico, South Korea, all of Europe," the group said in a statement to the House Immigration and Citizenship subcommittee earlier this year.

Tech vs. healthcare

The American Hospital Association, representing some 5,000 hospitals and healthcare organizations, raised similar concerns in a letter this month to House leaders. It said the bill would increase the wait time for foreign nurses' green cards from five to seven years. Instead, it urged for an increase in the total number of employment-based green cards.

Although earlier versions of the Eagle Act received bipartisan support in prior Congresses without getting final approval, this time around, the Republican leadership issued a string of objections to the bill.

Per-country caps were established to ensure a fair and just immigration system -- that no country or group should be able to dominate our immigration system.
U.S. Rep. Yvette ClarkeD-New York

In a memo to House members, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Judiciary Committee's ranking member, wrote that the bill favors workers from India and China and that "nationals from all other countries will be forced to share a small and decreasing pool of green cards."

But what might hurt the Democrats even more in a hunt for votes is the objections from within their own party.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), who heads the immigration taskforce chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote its members this month urging opposition to the Eagle Act.

"Per-country caps were established to ensure a fair and just immigration system -- that no country or group should be able to dominate our immigration system," she said.

"India and China hold the highest number of applications by a significant margin," Clarke said of green card applications. Eliminating per-country caps without increasing the total number of visas will "result in a dearth of immigration opportunities for hopeful migrants outside of these nations, with particular concern for those from African and Caribbean nations."

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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