(CNSNews.com) - An advocacy group for legal immigrants on Wednesday criticized an immigration reform bill currently before the Senate, saying it is unfair to high-skilled immigrants and will encourage outsourcing to India and China.
Immigration Voice said the country was being told that no illegal, undocumented immigrant would be considered ahead of those already going through the legal process for green cards, which grant permanent residency.
But, the group said, "While the backlog of family-based petitions has been highly publicized, the petitions of individuals - engineers, scientists, doctors and other professionals - are being left in legal and bureaucratic limbo."
Jay Pradhan, a spokesman for Immigration Voice, told Cybercast News Service that the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 favors unskilled and undocumented immigrants, despite having a point-based system designed to give a priority status to highly skilled and highly educated individuals.
"The point system was created to reward high-skills and merits and education," Pradhan said. "But if you look at the point system, you can get 21 points for being an agricultural worker - even undocumented - on the other hand if you are a doctor with an MD or a business executive with an MBA, you get 20 points.
"The point system is a joke," he said. "It's not a merit system. It basically is rewarding people for not having skills."
He added that the proposed bill would cut the number of available green cards from 140,000 a year to 90,000.
Under the proposal being debated, agricultural workers who are undocumented can apply for a Z visa, which would grant them temporary resident status.
"When you get a [Z visa], you can work anywhere, for any employer, in any occupation, any profession you like, without any strings attached from the Department of Labor," Pradhan said.
"For those on H1-B [a visa for skilled workers] waiting for green cards, we have to stick to the same jobs, same job description, the same employer until we reach the final stage of green card - until we are just inches away from a green card. Until then, for 10 years, we have to stick to the same job. That is totally unfair."
But for Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research at National Council of La Raza, the issue is that the point system overly benefits highly educated and skilled workers.
"We believe that family ties must be given more value and that the system allow for the workers we need in this country," she told Cybercast News Service . "We need high skilled labor, but we also need low skilled laborers, and the point system must allow sufficient points for all of these needed workers to immigrate."
Bruce Goldstein, executive director of Farmworker Justice, told Cybercast News Service that agricultural workers in the future will "basically have very little chance of getting an immigration visa under a point system," because the restrictions on agricultural workers are "quite severe."
"This earned legalization program only applies to this particular group of people - no future farm workers may apply for it," he said. "As temporary residents on a Z visa, they would then be obligated to work three to five years in American agriculture. Once they finish the agricultural work, they would be permitted to apply for a green card."
"Agriculture is the lowest-paying sector of the economy," said Goldstein. "It is also one of the three most dangerous occupations. Mining and construction are the others."
He said although workers participating in the earned legalization program may move between jobs during those three to five years, they must remain within the agricultural sector to stay in the program and be eligible to apply for a green card.
"This is a tough compromise," he said.
Brian Darling, director for U.S. Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, said the Z visa program is "the biggest loophole" in the proposed legislation.
"Z visas are amnesty because they are forgiving people who have snuck into the country illegally and are working here illegally," he told Cybercast News Service. "Not only are they being forgiven - the Z visa allows them to stay in the country indefinitely as long as they pay a fee every four years - but they may also be able to go down the pathway to citizenship. That is amnesty any way you slice it."
"We really need to go towards a system that rewards high-skilled foreigners with visas to come help our economy, because that is the goal of a true temporary guest worker program," Darling argued.
Pradhan also argued that under the proposed system, as skilled would-be migrants realize that "there is a disincentive to be highly skilled and to be highly educated," they will stop coming, and more jobs will end up being outsourced.
"It will be impossible for [businesses] to bring people here or have to wait two or three years to bring people here and to get them green cards if it takes 10 years," he said. "They will be more inclined to take the entire division or business overseas just to be able to meet the demand for skilled workers."
"In the long run, it will encourage outsourcing, and [the United States] will lose more jobs to India and China," said Pradhan.
Darling said he does not believe the bill will become law. "There is a possibility that this bill passes the Senate, but I have a hard time seeing this bill ever getting to the president's desk," he said.
One possible obstacle, reported in The Hill newspaper, could come in the form of House conservatives "blue-slipping" the bill - killing it due to a constitutional rule that revenue-related bills must originate in the House.
Because the Senate immigration measure requires that illegal immigrants pay back taxes before becoming citizens, The Hill said that several members of the House, including Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), are considering the blue slip measure.
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