Engineer WorkforceImmigration Reform

Legislative Breakthrough in High-Skill Immigration Reform?


Late on 11 July, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would dramatically improve America’s high-skill immigration system. The bill reforms the EB (employment based) visa program by enlarging the program and making it more fair. EB green cards are the primary visa used by IEEE members to immigrate to the United States.

At the heart of Sen. Paul’s BELIEVE Act (S. 2091) are key provisions from the Fairness in High-Skill Immigrates Act, S. 297, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

Senator Lee’s bill would remove country caps from within the EB green card program. Under current rules, only a limited number of EB visas can go to immigrants from any one country in a given year. This has resulted in massive backlogs of immigrants from India (and to a lesser extent, China) waiting for green cards for a decade or longer. By eliminating the country caps, Sen. Lee would award the scarce EB visas on a first-come, first-served basis.

IEEE-USA supports removing the country caps, but recognizes that doing so creates problems for EB applicants who are not from India and China. Moreover, Sen. Lee’s bill fails to address the most fundamental problem with the EB system: it just isn’t big enough.

Since the 1990s, more people have been getting into line for EB visas than are getting out of line, which has resulted in more than 750,000 people in the EB backlog.  Removing the country caps will not reduce this backlog, only rearrange it. Rather than applicants from India waiting 10 years for a visa and everyone else waiting 1 to 3 years, Sen. Lee’s bill would have everyone waiting around 7 years, which is fair, but also too long.

Which is where Sen. Paul’s bill comes in.  His bill not only eliminates the backlog, but also increases the EB cap from 140,000 to 270,000 annually. Additionally, S. 2091 would exempt spouses and children from the EB cap, meaning all 270,000 visas would go to workers (only half do currently). If passed, the BELIEVE Act would quickly clear out the entire EB backlog and allow skilled immigrants to get their green cards within a year or two of applying, a vast improvement over the current situation.


Individuals don’t apply for EB visas – their employers do. Companies wishing to hire someone using an EB visa must prove that they have tried and failed to find a qualified American, must pay their new EB visa employees the prevailing American wage, and advertise positions publicly before turning to the EB program. All of these protections are maintained in the BELIEVE Act.

The EB visa is distinct from the H-1B and L temporary visa programs in that EB visas are green cards.  Once a person has a green card, they are permanent legal residents of the United States and can become full citizens after 5 years. Green card holders own their legal status, which means they can switch jobs, start businesses, start families, and otherwise behave exactly like American citizens. And because EB workers can behave exactly like American workers, they cost exactly the same as American workers.

Unlike temporary work visas, EB visas strengthen the American economy, which is why IEEE-USA supports expanding the program.

The BELIEVE Act’s prospects for passage are unclear at this time. High-skill immigration is relatively popular in Congress and with the American people, but Congress has had difficulty passing any immigration legislation over the past several years.

IEEE members who support making it easier for skilled immigrants to become Americans are encouraged to contact their legislators in Washington to ask them to cosponsor S. 2091, the Believe Act.  Contact IEEE-USA staffer Russell Harrison at if you have questions about this bill, or any of IEEE-USA’s public policy activities.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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  1. It “would dramatically improve America’s high-skill immigration system”?

    I recall debate within both IEEE Computer Society and ACM about H1-B visas continuing for the past two decades as the average inflation-adjusted wages for programmers and sysadmins remained flat or decreased.

    This may be an improvement in foreign policy, but it is not an improvement in industrial policy.

  2. I would like to know HOW IEEE USA came to the decision to support this bill.

    For IEEE USA to be supporting this bill is EXACTLY the type of reasons why the IEEE is not growing. Positions on such matters MUST ONLY be taken AFTER members’ inputs, and a referendum. EB visas damage members’ career prospects and degrade compensation structures. There is NO SHORTAGE of engineers in the US, it is just that lobbyists working for major companies [in no particular order, and not a complete list: Apple Cisco HP Facebook, Google, etc] create that perception. The corps just want to continuously depress compensation. The hypocrisy is that they seek ‘free market’ for themselves while restricting opportunities for ‘high-skill’ workers in this process.

  3. Although I have been retired for several decades now, I do remember the a
    erospace depression ca 1970. I lost my job twice during that depression. Others completely left engineering. Prospective employers specified detailed requirements that could only be met by certain prospective immigrants. This was before ridiculously low salaries were mentioned. At the same time, American universities were training our foreign competition. Irwin Feerst was trying to get IEEE to be more on the side of typical WORKING engineers.

    If the IEEE wants to do something to help a typical working US engineers, how about patent reform? The US Constitution in its section on patents, mentions inventors, not employers. Engineers should be allowed to negotiate, say for at least ten percent of patent royalties without being laughed out of the employment centers. Instead, the IEEE is back trying to find cheap labor to compete against Its American members.

    William W Buchman, PhD, PE

  4. Before I comment on this proposed Bill, and IEEE-USA support of it, I’d like to know what percentage of 100’s of thousands of EB Visa Holders became US citizens?

  5. I oppose this proposed Bill for many reasons, none of which is anti-immigrant.

    First and foremost, the reason for “massive backlogs of immigrants from India” (who technically are non-immigrant guest workers, not immigrants) is based on a lie – shortage of STEM Professionals. IT Professionals from Disney Orlando, Southern California Edison, University of California, and scores of others, were replaced by H-1B visa workers – after training their replacements! That does not indicate a skill shortage. The H-1B (as well as the F1 OPT, L-1, and other visa types) has been used to flood the STEM labor market to drive down wages (a recent article in Ireland’s Independent has an Ireland Central Bank economist confirming that immigration above a threshold level drives down wages). Eliminating EB visa country caps may have the same effect. And to solve the problem for EB applicants who are not from India and China, in a few years there will be clamoring to lift country caps for ALL nations unleashing a new flood of disruptive immigration to drive down wages.

    H-1B visas enables age discrimination. In a Bloomberg article, it was reported that Boeing told their Senior Engineers their services were no longer required, as the 737 was a ‘mature product’. They were replaced with younger, cheaper, less experienced H-1B visa workers.

    Regarding “must prove that they have tried and failed to find a qualified American”, immigration lawyers are highly adept at finding ways circumventing that. May 15 2007, Seventh Annual Immigration Law Update, immigration attorneys (Lawrence M. Lebowitz, V.P. of Marketing led) from Cohen & Grigsby explains how they assist employers in running classified ads with the goal of NOT finding any qualified applicants, and the steps they go through to disqualify even the most qualified Americans in order to secure green cards for H-1B workers. The goal is to run ads that do NOT find any qualified U.S. workers.

    Before anyone mentions fairness for non-immigrant guest workers from India and China, what about fairness for displaced American mid to senior level STEM Professionals, as well as fairness for recent American STEM graduates with a mountain of student debt? Was the basis for supporting this bill? Is this a capitulation to U.S. Companies who refuse to hire experienced middle age American STEM Professionals to prevent the job from being offshored?

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