Though much of the recent debate on immigration reform has been focused on whether Congress should grant legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country, the Senate immigration bill approved late last month wisely includes measures that will also benefit legal immigrants.
The Senate proposal increases the annual limit on family unification visas to nearly half a million, allowing more relatives of legal immigrants to come and live in the U.S. The legislation also raises the cap on employment-based visas used by American companies to hire mostly highly skilled and educated immigrants as permanent residents.
The availability of more visas should help ease the tremendous backlog of visa applications filed by people who have been waiting for a decade or more to come here through legitimate channels. It should also discourage people from entering the country illegally by giving them a legal option.
Currently, there is backlog of 420,000 applications for visas, permanent residency and citizenship. The director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, has announced an initiative to streamline its outdated, paper-based system to an electronic system that will help speed up processing times.
It's a good start, but ultimately it's up to Congress to ensure that the nation has a workable immigration system. That means the House must be prepared to follow the Senate's lead and accept expanded caps on reunification and employment visas as part of any final immigration reform legislation.