Immigration reform plan bodes well for Chinese

Updated: 2013-01-30 12:09

By Chen Weihua in Washington and Liu Yuhan in New York (China Daily)

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US President Obama has backed a bill proposal by a bipartisan group of senators to reform the nation's immigration policy, which is also seen as good news for many Chinese in the United States.

Speaking on Tuesday in a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 27 percent of the population is Hispanic, Obama hailed an immigration framework that senators from both parties proposed on Monday.

The framework seeks make it easier to give a green card to PhD and master students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who have found jobs in the country to obtain green cards, in addition to paving the way for 11 million illegal immigrants.

Under the bill proposed by the senators, the H-1B (non-immigrant temporary working) visa cap will be increased from 65,000 each year to 115,000, depending on labor market conditions. The bill would also eliminate the quota for graduates with advanced degrees from US universities, allow spouses of H-1B holders to work, eliminate the national quotas for green cards and make it possible for visa holders to renew without returning to their home countries, an often lengthy and costly process.

Many, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have urged better visa policies for skilled foreign workers in high demand in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields as a way to improving the country's competitiveness in the global economy.

Bloomberg last month described the current US immigration policy as "national suicide".

Raymond Wong, president of Wong, Wong & Associates, a Manhattan-based law firm, saw hope for the increasing number of Chinese students studying at US universities.

"For the skilled and educated, that means there are more visas for them to work," he said.

"This is indeed great news for people like me," said Wincy Yun, a doctoral student in computer science at City University of New York, after hearing the proposals made in the Senate.

"I believe lots of people have been waiting for the moment. I hope it will be written into law as soon as possible."

Weizhi Shao, a doctoral student in civil engineering at Columbia University, said although he plans to return to China after graduation, his classmates and friends would be thrilled if this becomes a reality. "I think this will encourage a lot of doctoral students, who are planning to quit, to complete the program," he said.

A Pew Center survey released last year showed that Asian- Americans are the highest-income, best educated and fastest growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.

According to the Open Door report by the Institute of International Education, there were 194,000 Chinese students studying at US universities and colleges in the 2011/2012 school year, more than from any other country.

The 23 percent increase from a year ago also shows a growing trend, as more Chinese parents can afford to send their children to study abroad.

Currently, the US issues 140,000 green cards each year for employment-based immigrants, of which no more than 7 percent can go to applicants from any one country. Since applicants from India and China often outnumber those from other countries, they face lengthy waits.

Also, the US allocates a quota of 20,000 immigrants from China each year, the same as it gives to other countries, however small. Obama also threatened that if Congress declines to act in a timely fashion, he will send his own proposal to Capitol Hill to insist on a vote.

The proposals emphasize a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the US, create an effective employment verification system and reform the immigration system to better suit the needs of building the American economy and strengthening American families.

The comprehensive immigration reform put forward by the senators is expected to face tough opposition in the House and among the public.

So far, much of the talk on immigration reform has focused on Latinos, who make up the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants.

However, if passed, the reform will also have a huge impact on Asian and Chinese immigrants, both legal and illegal. According to a Department of Homeland Security report last year, there were an estimated 280,000 unauthorized Chinese immigrants in the US in January 2011, an increase of 90,000 over 2000. There were 6.8 million from Mexico, 660,000 from El Salvador, 520,000 from Guatemala and 380,000 from Honduras.

Of the 1.3 million unauthorized immigrants from Asia, most came from China, the Philippines (270,000), India (240,000), South Korea (230,000) and Vietnam (170,000). Many of them have either overstayed their visas or crossed the border illegally, by land or sea.

Wong, with the Wong, Wong & Associates, said these were reform proposals only and far from being law.

"The signs are hopeful though for the Chinese community," he said.

Under the proposals, illegal aliens would pay a fine, but still be able to work, pay taxes, and could even hold out hopes of getting a green card, as long as they had no serious criminal record, he said.

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