The Fairness for High-Skilled Workers Act has passed the House of Representatives, and is pending before the Senate where it may pass by unanimous consent (i.e., with no actual vote or hearing).

On its face, the Fairness Act seems fair. By eliminating the 7% per country cap, Indian nationals and Chinese nationals who have been waiting and would continue to wait for years to capture green cards would be placed at the front of line. But this would be at the expense of workers from other countries who are also important to the United States.

About 25% of all STEM workers in the U.S., including those in the fields of healthcare, physical science, computer, and math, are foreign-born and that figure is on the rise. One quarter of all doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born — many from sub-Saharan Africa — and are particularly important in poor, rural areas of the country where physicians are scarce. One in five pharmacists and one in four dentists are foreign-born. Other types of healthcare workers come from Asia, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean and our need for these workers rises as baby boomers age.

If the Fairness Act were to pass, recruiting from countries other than India and China might become more difficult, and this talent may well turn elsewhere. New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and the UK are also dependent on foreign-trained doctors.

High-tech workers from India and China are also important to the U.S. and its economy; but our current immigration system is driving them out as well. This started in 2008, when it became difficult for high-tech companies to get the number of H-1B visas they needed. That frustration has grown with the increased scrutiny of H-1B petitions and the long green card waiting lines. Indian and Chinese talent is heading for other countries, and Canada is welcoming them and their companies with open arms. South Africa, Argentina, India, Chile, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Israel, Australia, and Ireland also are popular competitors.

Quotas of one kind or another have been part of the U.S. immigration system since the early part of the 20th century. Literacy requirements limited immigration from some of the poorer countries of the world. Country-of-birth quotas benefited those from the UK, Ireland, and Germany at the expense even of those born in southern and eastern Europe. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (the Hart-Celler Act), which is the basis of our current system, abolished national origin quotas (to eliminate discrimination) and focused on family reunification. The 7% annual ceiling on the number of immigrants from any one country was established. The ceiling was not meant to be quota, but rather a “barrier against monopolization.”

Senator Rand Paul, who opposes the Fairness Act, introduced the BELIEVE Act (Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration and Employment Visa Enhancement Act) (S. 2091) on July 11, 2019. That bill would simply quadruple the number of employment-based visas by doubling the number available annually and exempting dependents from being counted toward the annual quota of visas. His bill also would exempt all shortage occupations from green card limits.

The Fairness Act may be just an interim solution. Rather than pitting family-based immigration against employment-based immigration and rather than pitting one country against another or one industry against another, perhaps it is time for legislation like the BELIEVE Act that would simply increase the number of green cards available to everybody.