- February 12, 2018
- Posted by: Sunsea International College
- Category: Latest News
February 05, 2018, 07:57 IST
The land of the brave and home of the free is the most prized destination for Indian immigrants.
After the recent fracas over immigration, US President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address earlier this week focussed on a plan to push for merit-based immigration system, ending the visa lottery programme and limiting family-based migration.
All this comes as music to the ears of thousands of skilled Indians, waiting on what seem endless queues for green cards.
“It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country,” Trump said.
Later, on Thursday, an official communication from the White House further insisted that the time had come to enact common-sense reforms to base immigration on individual merit and skill.
Green Card Backlogs
“The flood of low-skilled immigrants into the US has suppressed wages, harmed American workers and strained federal resources,” the White House said as it defended Trump’s proposal for a meritbased immigration system.
According to the White House, countries like Canada and Australia use a merit-based immigration system that benefits both the immigrants and those nations. The White House cited a recent Harvard-Harris poll which found 79% of those polled said immigration system should be based on an alien’s ability to contribute to America as measured by their education and skills.
Explaining Trump’s support for skilled immigrants from India, his supporter and founder of the Hindu Republican Coalition, Shalabh Kumar says that there are between 5,00,000 and 1 million Indian H-1B visa holders in the US who are potential immigrants. “Many of them are advanced degree holders from US universities with many years of work experience.
And even though the US economy needs them, they have long potential wait periods before they can get green cards of permanent immigrant status and then citizenship.” According to Kumar, Trump has pointed out the problems of the current immigration system in the US which favours chain migration, or family based categories, over skilled immigrants.
Of the 10,60,000 green cards issued every year, only 1,20,000 are for employment-based skilled workers. The rest are for unskilled workers or what is called ‘chain migration’ for uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, Kumar said. “Trump supports a merit-based and points-based system which is good news for the Indian community in the US. However, for any Bill on immigration reforms to be passed, the Republicans need the support of the Democrats.”
Dr Jonathan Rodrigues is an example of an Indian professional stuck in a long queue for a green card. He went to St Louis University to train in a dual residency in medicine and paediatrics after his MBBS from JSS Medical College in Mysuru in 2010 and stayed on for a fellowship in allergy and immunology.
“My green card petition was approved in 2015 under the national interest waiver category since I work in the underserved area of North Dakota. But because of the green card backlogs, I too have to wait on an H-1B visa indefinitely,” says Rodrigues.
For people like him, any travel outside the US, like India to meet family or other overseas medical conferences, means getting his passport stamped at an US diplomatic mission in India. “We cannot start a private practice or volunteer at free clinics. Besides we cannot start any business or get access to a lot of research grants.”
Physicians Dr Narayanan Krishnamoorthy and his wife Dr Chitra Mony, moved to Florida in 2006 from Scotland and had their application for green card approved in the national interest waiver (NIW) category.
“We work in areas where there are projected shortages of US physicians. Some of us hold master’s degrees from prestigious US universities, have published academic papers and have professional certifications in our respective areas of expertise. We were hired purely based on our skills, experience and qualifications. All of us have been employed legally and have been living in US legally since decades,” says Krishnamoorthy who switched to a H4 dependent employment authorisation document (EAD) of his wife, the green card applicant with a priority date of August 2010.
With the US department of homeland security looking to remove H4 dependent spouses from eligibility for employment authorisation, Krishnamoorthy is troubled. “I switched to the H4 EAD category after 9 years on the restrictive H-1B category because it gave me the flexibility to join a private practice and work in additional fields like wound care and teach medical students.”
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a non-profit that fights for racial justice and civil rights of South Asians, is focussed on the undocumented segment of the South Asian community and the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
“We see DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DREAM Act being pitted against legal immigration issues. At present, members of Congress and the White House have proposed legislation and administrative changes that would slash legal immigration up to 50%. These proposals, in addition to the backlogs our communities face, certainly make prospects for immigrating to the US seem dim, which is the goal of this current administration,” says Lakshmi Sridaran, director of national policy and advocacy, SAALT.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has been active on various immigration advocacy issues and spoke out strongly against the Trump administration’s proposal to deny extensions of H-1B visas to green card applicants.
“Green card queues are long and frustrating. They include primarily relatives of US citizens and lawful permanent residents and various preferences of immigrant workers, but also include investors, special immigrants, which include religious workers — a programme utilised by many Hindu temples,” says Suhag A Shukla, executive director, HAF.
Being “stuck” professionally during the green card application process or having spouses unable to work while they wait and other factors all contribute to disenchantment over the American dream for Indian families on H-1B extensions, says Shukla.
Skilled Immigrants in America (SIIA), which started as a Facebook group created by Anirban Das, a master’s of science graduate from University of Alabama, is now helping create awareness on green card wait times that Indians face.
“All across the US, our members have been meeting with senators and Congressmen and sharing personal stories about the uncertainty of our lives on the long green card queues. As part of our advocacy efforts, we plan an outreach in Washington DC which will be attended by over 500 members flying in from different US states next week,” says Harshit Chatur, vice-president, media relations of SIIA and an IIT-Madras alumnus who went to the US for an MBA and works for a utilities company in Houston, Texas; his employer filed his green card petition in 2012.
Anirudha Accanoor, who works for Dell Technologies in Boston on an H-1B extension, feels that the US immigration system does not foster innovation. “The long wait on green card queues does not let you easily change jobs or accept promotions/role changes and starting something new is impossible.” He has himself put all entrepreneurial plans on hold because securing funding is impossible for Indians on temporary visas.
Dhawal Patki is a pharmacist with a masters degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He started working for Walmart in Springfield, Illinois, in 2009 and was sponsored for a H-1B.
“My wife works in Chicago and we have lived in the US for 10 years. We are not able to plan on anything long-term because of the uncertainty that we face on the long green card queue,” says Patki, who is now 35 and has converted to an H4 dependent EAD because it gave him more flexibility in the job market and move to Chicago with his wife.
Life for families on green card queues is filled with uncertainty, feels Neha Mahajan who moved to the US with her husband a decade back when she was in her mid-twenties.
“Years have passed, waiting for this vicious circle of visa extensions to get over, my husband is now 40, and I am in the mid-30s. I’ve lost almost all chances of having a successful career. My husband is stuck in the same job, striving to make sure we maintain our visa status.”
They are waiting with approved petitions for green cards. New York-based immigration lawyer Cyrus Mehta reckons that the H-1B work visa still serves as a bridge for the green card for many Indian professionals, despite the long waits. “People are still attracted to work in the US under the H-1B visa, which is the only option, in the hope that Congress will fix the backlogs in the future. The H-1B visa may be the only route to work in the US.”
The L-1 intracompany transferee visa is an alternative, but the employee must work in the Indian parent, branch or subsidiary for 1 year before he or she can qualify for the L-1 visa. “The transferee must have worked in a managerial, executive or specialised knowledge capacity in the Indian entity and must be coming to the US entity in a similar role. Not many employees can qualify for the L-1 visa.”
Poorvi Chothani, an immigration lawyer in Mumbai, feels that Indian IT companiestread carefully and defer their decisions on US assignments for their employees on H-1B visas in the hope that the US government will soon announce some changes. They calculate that Trump’s address could have a bearing on their staffing plans. “Meanwhile, as an alternative, there is a huge interest and increased filings for the investment-based EB-5 visas from H-1B workers within the US who are investing $5,00,000 with regional centres to secure their future with fast track green cards.”
Despite the uncertainty of remaining on long queues for the green card, the US is still the favourite destination for skilled Indian IT professionals. “The US has skill gaps too and needs Indian IT professionals, doctors, professors, teachers and STEM researchers. And now, with the support of Trump, it seems very likely that the government will put in place some rules to meet with its requirements of qualified professionals including those from India,” says Sudhir Shah, a Mumbai based immigration lawyer.