Washington: In a move that would benefit highly-skilled workers from countries like India seeking to stay in the US, the House of Representatives has voted to end per-country caps on worker-based immigration visas.

The bill (HR 3012) passed by the US House of Representative in a voice vote – from both the parties -- completely eliminates the per-country caps for employment-based visas and raises the per-country cap from seven per cent to 15 per cent for family-based visas—all without adding even a single additional visa.

The current Immigration and Nationality Act generally provides that the total number of employment-based immigrant visas made available to natives of any single foreign country in a year cannot exceed seven per cent of the total number of such visas made available in that year, a result of which a large number of qualifies Indians in particular are rejected because of this anomaly in the existing law.

Supporters of this bill termed it as pro-growth and pro-job.

Speaking on the floor of the House in support of the bill, Congressman Steve Cohen said the bill removes the so-called "per-country" limits from applying to employment-based green cards.

"Current immigration law provides 140,000 green cards annually to employment-based immigrants. The law, however, prevents any one country from receiving more than 7 per cent —or 9,800— of the total 140,000 visas," he said.

"Because of this per-country limit, a country like India, with a population of 1.2 billion, is limited to the same number of visas as a country like Iceland, with a population of 300,000 and a lot of ice," he argued.

"This makes no sense and has resulted in decades-long backlogs for nationals from India, as well as China, and it makes it impossible for certain US employers to attract and retain certain essential workers they need to help keep America competitive. Indeed, from India and China there are many people trained in STEM areas that we need in our country to keep competitive," Cohen said.

He said that eliminating the per-country limit for employment-based immigrants would level the playing field and treat everyone on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Because the bill does not provide additional green cards, it does not address the current overall backlogs. And that's unfortunate. But the bill does treat people and those backlogs more equitably. To make sure that there are no unintended consequences, the elimination of the per-country limit is phased in slowly over 3 years," he said.

Congressman Jim Moran said that this bill is very important for the tech sector to grow and expand.

"We know how important technology firms are going to be in the global economy of the 21st century; but I don't think we fully take into account how important it is to continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world who, in fact, do want to go to graduate school here and do want to continue residing in the United States and to work here applying their talents and skills," Moran said.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren said, "This bill will help certain Indian nationals, who now face a wait of 70 years to get green cards.

"... But because the bill does not address the scope of the backlogs, it will increase the wait time for many others. Under this bill, everyone seeking an employment-based third preference green card will have to wait 12 years. That may be more equitable, but it doesn't fix the underlying problem," he said.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the lead sponsor of the bill, said there will be no net increase in the total number of visas.

"While per-country limits make some limited sense in the area of family immigration, they make no sense in the context of employment-based immigration. American companies treat all highly skilled immigrants equally regardless of where they come from. Our immigration policy should do the same," Chaffetz said.

The new bill, he argued, creates a fair and equitable, first-come-first-served system.

"Under this system, US companies will be able to focus on what they do best: hiring smart people to create products, services, and jobs for Americans," Chaffetz said.