The South Asian Times

18 November 2017 01:31 AM

Children of Indian immigrants on H1 on verge of shattered dreams!

By Suchitra Srinivas

America is probably not a land of opportunity for these 300,000 young children of Indian origin, who are on the verge of being discriminated in the college admissions process; for the only reason their parents are still in line for their green card. Ironically, these stories of ‘H4 dreamers’ remain untold and unheard, says SIIA, an advocacy group working on green card backlogs. 

Currently for applicants of Indian origin getting a green card could mean a wait for as long as 70 years! Not an exaggeration but simple math working out the numbers, asserts Harshit Chatur from Texas, the vice president of SIIA or Skilled Immigrants in America, which has 150,000 members.  

As of 2016, there are 1.5 million high skilled immigrants of Indian origin waiting in line for green card. Every year US issues one million green cards, of which only 80,000 are employment based (EB-2 & EB-3) immigration.   Further, with 7% country cap, it results in around 5,000 green cards for each country, irrespective of their size and contribution to the US economy. Countries like India with massive green card applicant numbers inevitably suffer a huge backlog.

SIIA  has boldly requested for the removal of the country cap on green cards at the earliest. 

As observed by Congressman Kevin Yoder, the lead sponsor of HR 392 bill favoring the removal of the country cap, there could be a mother right now in Greenland, whose unborn child will be able to grow up, go to school, graduate college, and come to America 30 years from now and will get green card sooner than someone from India who is already here in America, working hard, paying taxes, and contributing to our economy.

That is simply unfair, said Chatur.

The beatings of this backlog fall on the children of the immigrant applicants whose opportunities are immensely affected while the parents wait in line.  

Current talks about immigration reform center around the DACA kids and only aim at holistic overhaul that never accounts for the problems faced by H4 kids (whose parents are on H1 visas).   

Kids not born in America but who moved as children of these skilled immigrants legally and who remain loyal to all the rules of the land get no notice from the lawmakers, said Chatur.  

“To our shock we came to know that my daughter currently studying 11th grade when finishes school will be treated as foreign national for college admission process as my green card is still not approved. Opportunities for these children are denied because of their status. She dreams to become a neurosurgeon but some medical colleges that she wants to apply to won’t even accept her application. Even colleges that accept do not offer her in-state tuition, and she has to pay tuition rates higher than those for permanent residents” said Nandu Konduri of North Carolina and a spokesperson at SIIA. His daughter, Preethi Konduri, is a frontliner, talking about their plight to the senators and hoping for something miraculous to happen.  

Even after having studied in the US schooling system and having secured high credits H4 children are denied student loans because they are here still only on temporary visa. 

It does not stop here, even if these kids manage a degree from a prestigious college, come graduation and they are 21 years old and their dependent status is no more valid. They have to apply for F1 or H1 visa and the line of wait starts anew for them. They will be pushed behind, said Padma Katapalli of  New Jersey.  

The worst punishment will befall the H4 dreamers when they seek jobs, they have the risk of being denied visa as H1B is based on a lottery even for them. If they get unlucky in the lottery they have to self-deport after staying in this country for 15 years or so legally with their parents paying all the taxes and abiding by law, said Ramesh Ramanathan, from Virginia. 

Parents’ travails

The parents of these H4 dreamers too have gone through much waiting for permanent residency. 

 “Our lives become suddenly direction-less. The more planned and focused we were to arrive in the USA, the less enterprising and challenging we tend to become waiting endlessly for the green cards,” said Mohan Kumar, an IIT graduate who moved to the US six years back.  

“We cannot start new business or change work as this will release us from the green card applied through the current employer. We have to renew the visa every three years even when sticking on to the same employer. This has huge cost impact on us,” said Reetha Krishnan from New York. 

H1B visa renewal is stressful every time – what if it is denied for some reason. “We will be forced to leave the country. The house we own, our car, all belongings have to be just sold in 30 days to legally exit the country. This fear makes us think twice before making investments in the country. We end up paying huge rents for small apartments inconveniencing ourselves,” says Himesh Trivedi, who has lived here for 12 years.  

If the visa is not renewed, the person’s spouse, if working, will lose his or her job the same day, and even their US born children have to exit the country in such situations.  

Not just techies, other professionals too get locked in the backlog, among them an estimated

100,000 doctors. Ironically, it is reported that about 20% of residency seats would remain vacant if we do not have immigrant population taking them.   

SIIA propagates that simple lifting of the country cap can do a magic easing the backlog. The country cap is part of  immigration law passed 50 years ago. Today in an entirely changed economic and social scenario, this provision cannot see a relevant light, said Chatur.  

H.R.392 bill is being introduced in the Congress for the fourth time and previously did not make it to the floor.  It has close to 300 bipartisan cosponsors, but has not found the numbers in the senate. All because it seems too small a legislative pick compared to overhaul of the system being attempted.  

Meanwhile, the young H4 dreamers are at risk of getting their dreams crushed, that desperately calls for the lawmakers’ attention.  

SIIA has taken up the cause and since its founding in 2015 has made many rounds of advocacy meetings with Congress members and Senators, apprising them  of the issues.  Last month, on October 23-24, they visited offices of about 150 Congress members on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and presented their case.  About 20 kids joined in. “I am very scared and I fail to understand why I will not be allowed an admission into the college I aspire for”, innocently asked Saana Mahajan, a sixth grader from New Jersey, citing how studious she is.  

“Why are we, kids of legal tax paying immigrants getting ignored by Congress?” was the question in the young minds.

Many lawmakers seem to be unaware of the problems that afflict the life of skilled immigrants. “When explained, most of them showed their signs of support,” said Neha Mahajan from New Jersey.  

US has given only 14 per cent of its green cards to skill and experience based category, which is one of the lowest in the world. Many countries give as much as 50 per cent of green cards based on merit. This chunk in America should definitely increase when the knowledge based immigrant visas have always been adding value to the economy. 

Yet another proposal is that unused green card numbers should be allowed a methodical roll over or recaptured the same year, which has happened only twice in the last 30 years.  Currently, 500,000 green cards are wasted every year. If regulated, this can eliminate the backlog.  

Counting of dependents is yet another issue adding to the backlog. SIIA recommends that immediate family members should be excluded from the count.  

As an interim measure, SIIA recommends to temporarily increase the employment based green cards for a pief 2-3 years period. This will release the backlog to a great extent, said Chatur. 

While all the lawmakers SIIA met on Capitol Hill showed positive response, there is no clarity if things will change.

Suchitra Srinivas is a New Jersey based business journalist who writes for this paper.   

Update: 13 Nov, 2017

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