US Senate passes bill to eliminate per-country cap for employment-based immigrant visas


US Senate passes bill to eliminate per-country cap for employment-based immigrant visas

The passage of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act by the Senate on Wednesday comes as a big relief to Indian IT professionals who come to the US on H-1B work visas and their current waiting period for Green Card or permanent residency is running into decades.

The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill that eliminates the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas and raises it for family-based visas, a legislation that will hugely benefit hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals in America who have been waiting for years to get their green cards.

The passage of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act by the Senate on Wednesday comes as a big relief to Indian IT professionals who come to the US on H-1B work visas and their current waiting period for Green Card or permanent residency is running into decades.

Originally passed by the US House of Representatives on July 10, 2019 by a bipartisan 365 to 65 votes, the legislation increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from seven per cent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 per cent. It was sponsored by Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah in the Senate.

The legislation eliminates the seven per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas, a provision that will facilitate removal of the massive backlog of Indian IT professionals in the US. It also removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China. Because of arbitrary per-country caps, the legal status of Indian IT professionals was constantly in jeopardy.

In fiscal year 2019, Indian nationals received 9,008 category 1 (EB1), 2,908 category 2 (EB2), and 5,083 category 3 (EB3) Green Cards. EB1-3 are different categories of employment-based Green Cards.

In July, Senator Lee had told the Senate that the backlog for an Indian national to get permanent residency or Green Card is more than 195 years.

The new legislation also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY2020-FY2022, by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas.

Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 per cent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country. Running against time, the Senate on Wednesday moved the process very quickly. It was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent and soon thereafter it was considered by the full Senate. The Senate passed it quickly with unanimous consent.

Currently, there is a backlog of almost one million foreign nationals and accompanying family members lawfully residing in the US who have been approved for, and are waiting to receive, employment-based Green Cards. The largest number of them are from India.

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act creates a more merit-based system that levels the playing field for high-skilled immigrants, said Senator Kevin Cranmer, who worked to ensure that the legislation includes safeguards against fraud and abuse in the visa system.

The Senate passed the bill as Senator Cramer presided over the chamber. Immigration is often a contentious issue, but we should not delay progress where there is bipartisan consensus,” he said.

In February 2019, Cramer brought Debjyoti Dwivedy (“DD”), a North Dakota State University alumnus and Vice President of Immigration Voice, a group which advocates for this bill, as his guest to the State of the Union.

As Congress debates the many aspects of our broken immigration system, Debjyoti offers expertise and experiences that reflect North Dakota priorities and values, Senator Cramer said at the time. It is my hope we can finally pass a version of the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act this Congress.

Being invited as his guest to the State of the Union was a great honour. To me, this demonstrates his appreciation for the important role immigrants play to North Dakota. His ardent support for the Fairness for Immigrants Act is found in both his conservative principles and his commitment to the people of North Dakota, DD wrote after the event.

In August, Senator Lee on the Senate floor said that he has always been struck by the fact that the government has conditioned green cards and a pathway to citizenship based solely on the applicant’s country of origin.

There may have been some legitimate reason many decades ago in fact for this, but this has led to a system that largely discriminates against green card applicants from one country, he told his Senate colleagues.

I mean literally one country. This is inconsistent with our founding principles. this is not how we try to do things as Americans, and it’s not right. Today, if you’re a work-based immigrant from India entering into the EB- green card application process, you will wait almost 200 years before your application is even considered solely because of where you were born, he had said.

Almost 200 years on a waiting list. Some people don’t even live that long. Our country isn’t much older than that, and that’s the amount of time they would have to wait based solely on the basis of the country in which they were born, Lee had said, urging his colleagues to lift the country-cap on Green Card applicants.

If you’re born anywhere else, anywhere else other than China; let’s say in Ghana, Sweden, Indonesia, basically any other country other than India your application will be considered immediately. This sort of discrimination is simply inconsistent with the principles of a merit-based immigration system and with our founding principles and the principles that unite us as Americans, he had said.




President-elect Biden, former Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton vow to receive Covid vaccine publicly


President-elect Biden, former Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton vow to receive Covid vaccine publicly

Obama, in an interview with SiriusXM radio, said he would be inoculated if top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci signs off on a Covid-19 vaccine.

Former US presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton as well as President-elect Joe Biden are volunteering to take a coronavirus vaccine on camera if it will help promote public confidence.

Obama, in an interview with SiriusXM radio, said he would be inoculated if top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci signs off on a Covid-19 vaccine.

“If Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, and can vaccinate, you know, immunize you from getting Covid, absolutely, I’m going to take it,” Obama said.

“I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it,” he said.

“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science, and what I don’t trust is getting Covid,” Obama said.

Freddy Ford, Bush’s chief of staff, told CNN the former president also wanted to help promote vaccination.

“First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations,” Ford told CNN.

“Then, president Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera.”

Angel Urena, Clinton’s press secretary, told CNN the former president would also be up for getting a vaccine in public on television.

Later in the day, Biden told CNN in an interview that he, too, would be willing to be vaccinated in public after government approval of vaccines, specifically saying he would rely on Fauci to say it was safe.

“It’s important to communicate to the American people it’s safe,” the 78-year-old said. “It’s safe to do this.”

He also lauded the three former presidents for their commitment, saying they had “set the model as to what should be done.”

Vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna-NIH are expected to be approved by US authorities shortly.

A top science official said Wednesday the United States hopes to have immunized 100 million people by the end of February.




Afghan-Taliban negotiators agree on procedural rules for Doha talks


Afghan-Taliban negotiators agree on procedural rules for Doha talks

The contact groups have held five meetings so far to discuss rules and regulations as well as the agenda of the negotiations.

Negotiators from the Afghan government, as well as the Taliban, have agreed on procedural rules to continue the peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, it was confirmed by both the sides.

“Today (Wednesday), the plenary meeting was held between two Intra-Afghan negotiation teams. In this meeting, a joint working committee was tasked to prepare the draft topics for the agenda,” TOLO News quoted Nader Nadery, a member of the government’s negotiating team in Doha, as saying.

“The current negotiations between both teams show that there is a willingness among Afghans to reach sustainable peace and both sides are committed to continuing their sincere efforts to reach a sustainable peace in Afghanistan” he added.

Also confirming the development, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said that a general meeting of the two sides was held in Doha on Wednesday, and the joint committee was tasked with preparing the topics for the agenda of the talks.

“The current talks between the delegations from the two sides indicate that there is a will for peace among Afghans,” Naeem added.

The international community and Afghan leaders have responded positively to the news.

Deborah Lyons, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the world body welcomes the progress achieved by both negotiating teams in the Afghan Peace Process.

“Moving on to the agenda is a positive development. This breakthrough should be a springboard to reach the peace wanted by all Afghans,” TOLO News quoted Lyons as saying in a tweet on Wednesday.

Also taking to Twitter, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, said: “I welcome the news from Doha that the two Afghan sides have reached a significant milestone.

A three-page agreement codifying rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire. The people of Afghanistan now expect rapid progress on a political roadmap and a ceasefire. We understand their desire and we support them.

“As negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will work hard with all sides for a serious reduction of violence and even a ceasefire during this period. This is what the Afghan people want and deserve.”

Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, welcomed the “initial major step” and thanked the “Republic’s negotiation team, all facilitators and the host Qatar for their valuable support”.

President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the development was “a step forward towards beginning the negotiations on the main issues, including a comprehensive ceasefire as the key demand of the Afghan people for a lasting peace”.

Both the teams had formed small groups called “contact groups” on the opening day of the talks on September 12.

The contact groups have held five meetings so far to discuss rules and regulations as well as the agenda of the negotiations.




Pakistan’s Covid-19 cases surpass 406k mark


Pakistan’s Covid-19 cases surpass 406k mark

Frontline healthcare workers and people over 65 years of age will be the first to get the vaccine administered, he added.

Pakistan’s overall coronavirus caseload has increased to 406,810 after an additional 3,499 people tested positive in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

In the same period, a total of 8,205 people died and 346,951 recovered from the disease in the country which is currently battling a serious second wave, Xinhua news agency quoted the Ministry as saying.

The two new figures increased the overall death toll and recoveries to 8,205 and 346,951, respectively.

Sindh province is currently the worst hit with 177,625 cases, followed by most populous province Punjab with 121,083 positive cases, the official figures revealed.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Health Faisal Sultan said that the government has approved to allocate a budget of $150 million to purchase vaccines.

Frontline healthcare workers and people over 65 years of age will be the first to get the vaccine administered, he added.

Meanwhile, Federal Parliamentary Secretary in the Health Ministry Nausheen Hamid said that the government will provide free of cost vaccine to its citizens and the vaccination will start in the second quarter of 2021.

The Pakistani government has also decided to observe “Covid-19 standard operating procedures compliance week” from Saturday for creating awareness in public about the significance of the SOPs in guarding against the disease.




Brazil Covid-19 death toll tops 173,000


Brazil Covid-19 death toll tops 173,000

With 287 new coronavirus fatalities reported in Brazil in the last 24 hours, the country’s death toll has increased to 173,120, the second highest in the world after the US, according to the Health Ministry.

Besides the new fatalities on Monday, the country also registered 21,138 new cases, which took the overall tally to 6,335,878, Xinhua news agency.

Brazil’s caseload is the third highest after the US and India.

Also on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) voiced deep concern over a sharp increase in infection and fatality rates in Brazil.

“I think Brazil has to be very, very serious,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference in Geneva.

The South American country managed to flatten the curve between September and November, but statistics rose again after lockdown measures were eased.




UK Government to ban installation of Huawei’s 5G network


UK Government to ban installation of Huawei’s 5G network

The government has given seven years to the telecoms operators to remove its existing technology from their 5G infrastructure at an expected cost of 2 billion pounds.

The British government on Monday announced that it is preparing to ban the installation of Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s 5G equipment from September 2021.

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that as per its earlier decision, the UK carriers will no longer be able to install Huawei equipment beginning September 2021.

A report on CNET recently stated that the UK government has laid out a roadmap for removing all telecoms equipment made by “high risk vendors,” including Huawei, from the country’s 5G network by 2027.

The UK government earlier in July had announced that ‘high risk’ vendors would be banned from the purchase of new Huawei kits for 5G from next year and their existing equipment phase out by 2027.

The government has given seven years to the telecoms operators to remove its existing technology from their 5G infrastructure at an expected cost of 2 billion pounds.

The decision came following new advice produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against the telecommunications vendor.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated Chinese telecom companies, Huawei and ZTE, as national security risks to America’s communications networks.

In a U-turn, the UK government that earlier allowed Huawei to sell its 5G technology in the country, signalled a tougher stand against the Chinese telecom giant.

Meanwhile, Huawei called the decision “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone”.

Struggling to keep its consumer business afloat in the wake of the US sanctions, Huawei this month announced to sell off its Honor smartphone business assets to China-based Shenzhen Zhixin New Information Technology Co Ltd.




France Covid-19 hospitalisations further decline


France Covid-19 hospitalisations further decline

People can go out for exercises for up to three hours a day and within a 20 km radius of their homes instead of 1 km and only for an hour.

Covid-19 hospitalizations in France have further declined as the country, one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic in Europe, started a three-stage lockdown exit.

On Saturday, a total of 28,168 infected patients remained in hospitals, down by 480, consolidating a downward trend reported since mid-November, reports Xinhua news agency.

Meanwhile, 3,777 patients are in intensive care, compared to 3,883 on Friday, according to official data.

Also on Saturday, another 12,580 people tested positive for the virus which increased the overall caseload to 2,208,699.

The death toll rose to 52,127 with 213 new fatalities reported in the past 24 hours.

On Saturday, France started the first phase of its three-stage reopening strategy.

All non-essential shops resumed their activities under strict health protocol: providing at least 8 square metres of shop floor for each client, one-way circulation and sufficient ventilation.

Indoor religious services with 30 worshippers are allowed.

People can go out for exercises for up to three hours a day and within a 20 km radius of their homes instead of 1 km and only for an hour.

They, however, should continue to sign a document to go out.

The second stage of the government’s plan to return to normalcy is scheduled for December 15 if the number of daily confirmed cases is brought to under 5,000 per day.

The confinement will then be lifted, but a 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew will apply to the whole country except on December 24 and 31.

Theatres and museums will reopen provided they reinforce the health protocol.

Restaurants, bars, cafes and gyms would have to stay shut until January 20 to avoid the virus resurgence.




‘Global arrogance’: Iran slams Israel, US after top scientist’s death


‘Global arrogance’: Iran slams Israel, US after top scientist’s death

Iran generally uses the term “global arrogance” to refer to the United States.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Saturday accused arch-foe Israel of acting as a “mercenary” for the US, blaming the Jewish state for assassinating one of Tehran’s prominent nuclear scientists the day before.

“Once again, the wicked hands of the global arrogance, with the usurper Zionist regime as the mercenary, were stained with the blood of a son of this nation,” Rouhani said in a statement on his official website, referring to the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iran generally uses the term “global arrogance” to refer to the United States.

Fakhrizadeh was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards in an attack outside Tehran on Friday, Iran’s defence ministry said.

It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry’s reasearch and innovation organisation, was later “martyred” after medics failed to revive him.

Rouhani vowed that his death “does not disrupt” Iran’s scientific progress and said the killing was due to the “weakness and inability” of Tehran’s enemies to impede its growth.

He offered condolences to “the scientific community and the revolutionary people of Iran.”

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the assassination.

The United States slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for “activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once described him as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Fakhrizadeh was targeted while travelling near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county.

The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, without giving further details.

The assassination comes less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is to take office.

Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.




‘Calling vote unfair doesn’t make it so’: US court tells Donald Trump


‘Calling vote unfair doesn’t make it so’: US court tells Donald Trump

In a scathing review of the Trump campaign’s arguments that the president was cheated in his November 3 reelection bid, three appeals court judges unanimously said that allegations of unfairness were not supported by evidence.

A federal appeals court on Friday flatly dismissed President Donald Trump’s claim that the election was unfair and refused to freeze Joe Biden’s win in the key state of Pennsylvania.

In a scathing review of the Trump campaign’s arguments that the president was cheated in his November 3 reelection bid, three appeals court judges unanimously said that allegations of unfairness were not supported by evidence.

“Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so,” the court said.

In appealing a lower court ruling, the Trump campaign claimed discrimination, the judges noted.

“But its alchemy cannot transmute lead into gold,” the court said.

It was the latest in more than two dozen court defeats around the country for the Trump campaign and Republicans who have alleged fraud and other misconduct contributed to the president’s loss.

Trump persists in arguing that Biden’s clear victory is invalid.

“Just so you understand, this election was a fraud,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Last week a Pennsylvania state court rejected arguments by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani that the millions of votes in the state should be thrown out due to fraud.

The judge in that case, however, embarrassed Giuliani by forcing him to admit that none of his precise claims before the court involved fraud or anything more than technical issues in overseeing the vote count.

On Tuesday the Pennsylvania government officially certified Biden’s victory in the state, and the Trump campaign appealed to federal court to have that certification frozen.

But the appeals court said Trump’s campaign had nothing substantial to argue.

“Its allegations are vague and conclusory,” the judges said.

“It never alleges that anyone treated the Trump campaign or Trump votes worse than it treated the Biden campaign or Biden votes.”

With Biden’s national lead in the popular vote and the electoral college now virtually unassailable, the court indicated that another appeal, to the US Supreme Court, would go nowhere.

“The campaign has already litigated and lost most of these issues,” the court said.

“The campaign cannot win this lawsuit. It conceded that it is not alleging election fraud.”

Nevertheless, Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign lawyer who worked with Giuliani on the case, tweeted their intent to appeal.

“The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud … On to SCOTUS!” she said, referring to the Supreme Court.




China criticises Pope Francis over comment on Uighur Muslim minority


China criticises Pope Francis over comment on Uighur Muslim minority

Beijing: China criticised Pope Francis on Tuesday over a passage in his new book in which he mentions suffering by China’s Uighur Muslim minority group.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Francis’ remarks had no factual basis at all.
People of all ethnic groups enjoy the full rights of survival, development, and freedom of religious belief,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

Camps
Zhao made no mention of the camps in which more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Chinese Muslim minority groups have been held. The US and other governments, along with human rights groups, say the prison-like facilities are intended to divide Muslims from their religious and cultural heritage, forcing them to declare loyalty to China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping.

China, which initially denied the existence of the facilities, now says they are centers intended to provide job training and prevent terrorism and religious extremism on a voluntary basis.

In his new book Let Us Dream, due Dec. 1, Francis listed the poor Uighurs among examples of groups persecuted for their faith.

Pope Francis
Francis wrote about the need to see the world from the peripheries and the margins of society, to places of sin and misery, of exclusion and suffering, of illness and solitude. In such places of suffering, I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi what ISIS did to them was truly cruel or Christians in Egypt and Pakistan killed by bombs that went off while they prayed in church, Francis wrote.

Francis has declined to call out China for its crackdown on religious minorities, including Catholics, much to the dismay of the Trump administration and human rights groups. The Vatican last month renewed its controversial agreement with Beijing on nominating Catholic bishops, and Francis has been careful to not say or do anything to offend the Chinese government on the subject.

China and the Vatican have had no formal relations since the Communist Party cut ties and arrested Catholic clerics soon after seizing power in 1949.

Source: AP




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