Congress Needs to Fix Immigration Visa Quotas to Boost Economy

Business visas have long been a problem for employers and employees. There is no logic to the quota system that Congress has, and quotas do not accurately correlate with economic reality.

Current systems exist for both the employment-based visa categories that lead to permanent residency and the non-immigrant visa categories.

It is important to the US economy that Congress act to reform the employment visa system and reform the quota issue. Without these changes, employers will continue to struggle to fill jobs in many industries, such as nursing, and other highly skilled positions.

Employment Visas

The employment-based, or IV, quota system is complex, with start dates and places in line for each country’s visa category. There are approximately 140,000 IVs available in five preferred categories.

Under the national quota established in 1990, no country can receive more than 7% of the total number of work-related IVs each year. There have been many attempts to end the partition of each country because it affects only a few countries, like India, and causes a lag of many years.

Due to the lack of reformulation of the IV system, there have been many attempts to reduce the complexity of the system. This includes efforts to:

  • Re-hold unused IVs from previous years. There are estimates of over 200,000 such visas.
  • Explain who should be counted or assigned an IV for each category. Currently the main IV applicant and their dependents are granted a visa. At least, only the great guest should be counted.
  • Excluding some IVs from the classification system, including people who received Ph.D. from a US educational institution, who have special skills, and who invest heavily in the US economy.
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Unfortunately, even attempts to legally release all IVs by the administration have been unsuccessful.

Nonimmigrant Employment Visas

As with IVs, there are caps and quotas on visas required for work. This includes H-1B and H-2B nonimmigrant visas, or NIVs.

The H-1B visa is used by many employers who want to support professionals in a specialized field. Since 1990 caps have been placed on the number of H-1B visas. Garments range from 65,000 to 195,000 per year.

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Currently, there are 85,000 H-1B visas with 20,000 reserved for master’s degree holders in the US.

The H-2B visa is used for temporary, seasonal, and high-skilled, non-agricultural workers. There is a license for 66,000 visas per year, with the ability to add a few employees at will.

Because of the high demand for H-2B visas for seasonal workers, and since there are no visas available for unskilled workers for year-round work, some businesses try to squeeze workers into this category. This is just confusing the system.

Despite the shortage of these occupations, which include advanced care, child care, nursing, hospitality, construction, meat and poultry processing, restaurants, retail, and manufacturing, there are no NIVs available for these workers.

The NIVs that are allowed to work in the US do not have caps. Why are some visas allowed and others not? Why not have a clear cap for NIVs?


Efforts to address some of these issues have not been successful, despite bipartisan agreement in the Senate in 2006 and 2007, and in 2013. The US economy is now paying the price.

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Tens of thousands of immigrants to the US have fled to the US for a variety of reasons, including self-employment or to protect themselves or their families. These people may want to work in the US, and many of them do—many illegally.

If the US had a legal system to bring essential workers into the country, we could dramatically change the flow of immigrants from the illegal to the legal.

Reforms are needed to comply with immigration laws to meet the needs of businesses for low-educated or needy people, and to reform the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories. Such reforms would help strengthen the US economy and national security, and bring our system into the 21st century.

This article does not reflect the views of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., which publishes Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Laura Foote Reiff is a shareholder and co-founder of the Greenberg Traurig business group as well as an investor and investor. Represents businesses and organizations in migration and compliance matters.


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