Approved on February 16, 2023
Controlling the number of immigrants allowed into the United States has been a feature of U.S. immigration policy since 1924 — the year that the “National Origins Quota System” became the law of the land. Not only was the overall number of immigrants restricted, but also discriminatory caps were placed on the number of immigrants allowed in from any one country, based on their percentage of the overall population in 1890. Moreover, Asian immigrants were barred from the U.S. entirely.
Although the U.S. abolished this system in 1965, the government continued to set limits on immigration from single countries. The law capped the annual number of visas (both family and employment-based) at 290,000, but also imposed an Eastern Hemisphere restriction of no more than 20,000 visas per country per year. As a result, populous countries like China and India, which had minuscule quotas prior to 1965, had the same annual cap as smaller countries like Italy and the Netherlands. The immigration law was revised again in 1990 by setting the total number of employment-based visas at 140,000 and lowering the per-country cap to 7% (or a maximum of 9,800 visas) — further diminishing migration opportunities for potential immigrants from more populous countries.
There are strong arguments for eliminating the per-country caps. First, it isn’t fair that two Asian countries (China and India) with 40% of the world’s population should only receive 14% of available employment-based visas, or that a small country like Denmark with just .07% of the world’s population should have access to as many as 7% of available visas. The results of this policy are extensive backlogs in approved petitions from certain countries, as well as the troubling loss of skilled immigrants to other countries with more welcoming policies. Moreover, since so many backlogged skilled immigrants are currently working in the U.S. on temporary H-1B visas, thousands of their children, absent independent visa status, lose the right to remain in the U.S. when they reach the age of 21, thus disrupting families all over the country.
The arguments in favor of retaining country caps are two-fold: first, that applicants from more populous countries like India and China find it easier to qualify for admission because of their skill and educational levels. These applicants would therefore dominate the entire system were it not for the caps. The second argument is that it is in the nation’s interest to promote geographic and cultural diversity in the incoming immigrant pool; thus, the caps are an important tool in maintaining that diversity.
The Coalition believes that an effort should be made to open up more opportunities for immigrants from more populous countries, who in some cases face visa backlogs of more than a decade due to these stringent caps, but at the same time, the U.S. should continue to encourage migration from a broad range of countries, especially in Africa and the Americas.
We therefore call for doubling the single country cap from its current limit of 9,800 (7%) to 20,000 (14%) — thus partially reducing the built-in numerical bias that more populous countries face. At the same time, we believe that other steps should be taken to allow more needed talent into the country. These include the following:
- Raising the number of employment-based visas from its current limit of 140,000 to at least 200,000 per year.
- Creating a special temporary pathway for those people who have been on immigrant visa waiting lists for longer than 5 years. One way to do this would be to aggregate all immigrant visas that weren’t awarded over the last decade due to the pandemic and processing delays and make them available for aspiring immigrants on waiting lists.
- Creating a special visa category for family members (children and spouses) of employment-based immigrants, rather than allowing them to use up visas in the employment preference categories.
The Coalition believes that it is in the nation’s best interest to revise the discriminatory cap features of the U.S. immigration system and to create wider pathways for employment-based immigration.