Thanks in large part to the activism of impacted Iranian nationals studying and working in the United States and rapid response of NIAC Action, 2018 is almost certain to end without passage of H.R. 392/S. 281, the so-called “Fairness for Highly-Skilled Immigrants Act.”
This bill would eliminate nationality-based caps on key visa categories, which would benefit nationals from India and China at the expense of immigrants from smaller countries who would be hit hard. For Iranian nationals in particular, subject to the Muslim ban and relying on single-entry visas, the passage of the legislation would have been a tremendous blow – adding years of wait-time to an already-difficult period where they are separated from loved ones in Iran.
The bill was subject to furious lobbying from Indian immigrant advocacy groups and several major tech companies, which succeeded in adding it to the House homeland security spending bill. The negative side effects of this legislation were largely ignored or misunderstood by Congressional offices, and in August it appeared to be on the fast track to passage.
NIAC Action was one of the first organizations to publicly oppose H.R. 392/S. 281 and mobilize against it. We led an effort against the legislation that included meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, disseminating briefing materials on the negative effects of the measure, and engaging immigration policy and advocacy organizations to consider opposing the legislation. We also mobilized our grassroots network and provided resources to potentially impacted individuals who wanted to express their voice through calls and meetings with Congressional staff. Ultimately, we secured commitments from key legislators to prevent the measure from becoming law.
Through these actions, NIAC Action and Iranian nationals across the country made clear that the bill would be a major shakeup of America’s immigration system undertaken with little consideration of its impact, helping to arrest the bill’s momentum. Just this past week, a column in the widely-distributed Foreign Policy highlighted the major ramifications of H.R. 392’s passage on the Iranian community.
Moreover, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) – which represents a broad group of South Asian Americans and nationals in the United States – published a detailed analysis of this issue warning that passage of H.R. 392 would merely shift the burden of wait times onto other nationals, including those from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and nationals impacted by this administration’s discriminatory immigration policies like the Muslim Ban. Other groups such as the American Hospital Association also announced their opposition to H.R. 392 publicly.
Any remaining possibility for passage via 2018 spending, however, was eliminated when negotiations fully broke down over funding for Trump’s border wall. In insisting for spending for his wall, Trump spiked the possible vehicle that could have potentially passed H.R. 392 in 2018. This shifts the fight to 2019, when negotiations over spending bills will once again resume. Given H.R. 392’s attachment to the 2018 House spending bill on homeland security, it is likely that it will still be in the mix of increasingly complicated negotiations. However, NIAC Action will seek to build on our momentum in 2019, block the successor to H.R. 392 from being passed in the months ahead and ensure that Iranian nationals are not again subjected to unfair immigration legislation. Our legislative and grassroots organizing combined with our relationships on Capitol Hill place us in a position to block H.R. 392/S. 281 so long as it unnecessarily and unfairly threatens our community.