Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) last week introduced the Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement (BELIEVE) Act, a plan intended to increase immigration of high-skilled workers to the United States. The act will compete with the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), which passed the House last week. The Fairness Act makes useful changes, but has serious flaws, including its failure to account for immigrants with important occupations but who are not entitled to H-1B visas.
Sen. Paul strongly opposes the Fairness Act because it does not include a specific clause accounting for nurses, of whom there is currently a severe shortage in the United States. Currently, nurses are not eligible to receive H-1B visas, which are reserved for high-skilled immigrants. If the Fairness Act were to become law, they would be unable to access the limited supply of green cards. The BELIEVE Act acts as a remedy to this issue: it exempts any occupations listed on the Department of Labor’s shortage occupation list, which currently only includes nurses and physical therapists, from the green card limit.
This is not the only important contribution of the BELIEVE Act, however. It also increases the cap on employment-based green cards for non-shortage occupations from 140,000, which has been the cap since 1990, to 270,000. Additionally, the bill ends limits on employment-based green cards based on country, a change also included in the Fairness Act. This would mean that every worker applying for a green card would have to wait for the same amount of time, regardless of country. Arbitrary distinctions, such as immigrants from India having to wait ten times longer than others, as David Bier of the Cato Institute reported here, would be eliminated.
Immigrants’ families would also benefit: the BELIEVE Act would allow spouses and children of immigrants to work in the country. This would mean that a larger group of skilled workers could enter the economy and high-skilled immigrants would be more likely to take a legal route into the U.S.
The bill can expect bipartisan support: the Fairness Act received 140 Republican votes and 224 Democrat votes in the House, and the BELIEVE Act is an improved version with important additions. Paul blocked the Fairness Act when Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) brought it to the floor last week, leaving his bill as a plausible alternative. Increasing immigration of highly skilled workers and reforming the system based on merit will do wonders for the economy, says Bier. Paul’s act would do just that.