I recently read an article in the Business Review addressing New York State’s shortage of some 350,000 mid-level skilled workers. According to the article,“mid-level” jobs are those that fall between a high-school diploma and a four-year degree. Robert Geer, Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (“CNSE”), said that of the 3,100 people employed at CNSE, most have two-year or four-year degrees, while only 1 in 14 holds a Ph.D. The article got me thinking about what Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”) will do to address this issue, if anything.
CIR, as proposed in the Gang of Eight’s “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” includes a provision for a new “merit-based” point system (Track 1 as it is known in the bill). This point system allows foreign nationals to obtain a Green Card by accumulating points primarily based on their skills, employment history, and educational credentials. The bill provides that 120,000 to 250,000 Green Cards would be made available each fiscal year based on the point system. (The actual number would apparently fluctuate based upon a formula that takes into account the number of Green Cards requested the previous year and the unemployment rate.)
According to the bill, Track 1 would have two (2) tiers: one for higher-skilled immigrants with advanced educational credentials and experience, and a second tier for less-skilled immigrants. Beginning in the 5th fiscal year after bill becomes a law, half of the Green Cards would be allocated to applicants with the highest number of points under tier 1, and the other half would be allocated to applicants with the highest number of points under tier 2.
According to the current iteration of the bill, the allocation of points in both tiers is based on a combination of factors, including education, employment, occupation, civic involvement, English language proficiency, family ties, age, and nationality. The system seems to prioritize foreign nationals who are young, educated, experienced, skilled, and fluent in English. Family ties and others factors are weighted lower.
There is also a Track 2 to the merit-based system, which is designed to clear, over a period of seven years (starting in 2015) the enormous backlog that currently exists in the family- and employment-based Green Card “preference” system. Track 2 is designed to eliminate these backlogs by 2021.
Under the bill, commencing October 1, 2014, family- or employment-based Green Card applicants who have had their Green Card applications pending five (5) years or more under our current system will become eligible for a Green Card. (The Track 2 merit-based system also makes Green Cards available to Registered Provisional Immigrants who have maintained that status for at least ten  years.)
It’s not entirely clear how much the Gang of Eight’s bill, as currently proposed, will completely solve the problems identified in the Business Review’s article. Both tier 1 and tier 2 potentially can make a dent. The tier 1 point system, however, seems to favor those foreign nationals with more advanced degrees as opposed to the types of degrees identified as needed in the Business Review’s article.
However, the tier 2 may have some potential. Under the bill, between 60,000 and 125,000 Green Cards would be made available in each fiscal year for foreign nationals in high-demand tier-2 occupations. According to the bill, these are occupations for which the highest numbers of positions were sought to become registered positions by employers during the previous fiscal year. Some Green Cards will be reserved for occupations that require little or no preparation too. Under tier 2, the number of Green Cards available can also increase by 5% each year if demand exceeds supply in any year where unemployment is under 8.5%.
This is significant as it potentially allows workers who currently do not have great chance to obtain a Green Card with an opportunity to obtain one. This is also important considering the United States (and NYS) needs immigrants at all skill levels, as noted in the Business Review’s article.