Indians on H1B and H4 visas waiting for their green card backlog to clear up are going to pour in to Washington DC on February 7 and 8 from across 30 American states in a bid to ride the wave of public advocacy that will reach fever pitch all week as the Trump administration and the Opposition battle in the high stakes immigration standoff that has come to occupy the frontlines of US politics.
In the history of the H1B/ H4 visa community’s advocacy efforts in the US, this will be a first of its kind mobilisation on this scale with its roots firmly in social media groups formed in response to the perennially cliff-edge nature of the US work visa ecosystem.
“More than 900 people have registered, we expect at least a little more than ~ 500 to land up,” says Houston based Harshit Chatur of Skilled Immigrants of America (SIIA), a social media closed group leading next week’s call to lawmakers to iron out deep rooted problems in the Green Card backlog.
What are these?
At its core, the Green Card backlog dominates the agenda: On average, “high skilled” Indians who apply for a Green Card after the mandatory time frame on the plain vanilla H1B visa have a 15 year + wait to get anywhere near the finish line. This is born out of the country-based limits on green card applications which SIIA and all stakeholders on the receiving end say “must end”.
A bill for the H1B optimist
Their call to action is not entirely in a vaccum either. At least one bill that has been introduced in Congress speaks to this specific concern which is why HR 392 has become a giant prayer bead for the community. At its core, this bill seeks to emilimate per-country caps on employment based immigrants which is the category of interest to H1B visa workers. As on date, this bill has an impressive number of co-sponsors - 303 at last count across the aisle although originally introduced by a young Republican Senator.
Signals for the H1B pessimist
The counterweight to the middle of the road theme of HR 392 comes from not one but several bills and the hardliners who have the US President's ear on immigration policy.
Why otherwise, would Tom Cotton be handpicked by the President on a summer’s day in 2017 to crow about the Raise Act (a bill, despite its distracting name ) littered with red flags for the Indian with an American settler’s mindset? From the dumpster heap of bills introduced in Congress every season, Raise Act was handpicked and catapulted to national fame overnight. If you place the transcripts of Trump’s State of the Union, his recently announced immigration policy priorities and the full text of the Raise Act side by side, the overlay is impressive for the young Cotton from Iowa and sends bleak signals for the masses of people on interminable green card waits.
This is where the H4 EAD impasse begins and ends.
If the system miraculously transforms to something “fairer” where Indians who have filed their Green Card application papers have a sunset clause that doesn’t make their go grey while waiting, then the H4 EAD issue to some extent is sorted.
Right now, the H4 EAD recipients are getting hammered from all sides - At its most elementary level, their lives are strung to the ups and downs of the H1B visa because, after all, the H4 is the dependent visa. Second, the H4 employment authorisation that came in 2015 is under threat of being revoked. Third and probably worst, in sum total, is this: If the needle does not move on the green card wait and the H4 EAD gets revoked by a simple rule change ( this does not require legislation to overturn, in its present form), then H4 dependents are skewered. This applies not just to spouses but also children on the H4 who age out at 21.
For those on the outer fringes of this dizzy alphabet soup, the gist:
Because the H1B visa exits, therefore the H4.
The H4 employment authorization (EAD) is tied to the H1B workers' Green Card application.
The H4 EAD will cease to remain a pain point if the GC backlog is sorted out.
The longer the GC wait, the longer the H4 EAD cliffhanger.
Taken together, the Feb 8 advocacy event represents the bright side of the intersect between social media and how society bands together around a job to be done, which, in this case, is to solve a common problem that ~1.5 million Indians face. At one level, a group of five hundred people flying cross country to an iconic protest landmark is unremarkable when framed against say, the DACA protesters who will swoop down on the Capital city in the thousands. Yet, for the Indian community to take a social media campaign a notch higher and tie it to the essential legwork that any legislative success entails is what will be on display next week.
Here too, the first signs of low grade nitpicking have surfaced. Multiple Facebook groups and Twitter handles abound all feeding into the same funnel of hashtags - #EndGCBacklog, #H4EAD but there is resistance from some quarters to speaking in one voice on public platforms in a bid for exclusive publicity chops. Although par for the course in a larger community of 4 million Indians, these fissures are often all that lawmakers on foreign soil need to kick the can down the road.
On balance, SIIA with more than 153,000 members in a private FB group is the largest cohort. But the place where it began, for all practical puposes, is Rashi Bhatnagar’s Facebook page ‘H4 visa, a curse’. On this page, Bhatnagar, 36, has tirelessly logged the tortuous journey of the H4 dependent visa and in the process educated herself and a huge community of Indian expats and families on the federal rule making process in America. Bhatnagar is part of SIIA, along with founder Anirban Das from Maryland and Saravana Bharthi who joined early on.
Over the weekend, the Republican Hindu Coalition gig in front of the White House began and ended before the weeklong grassroots protests promise to overwhelm the Capital city Feb 5 onwards. The acronyms that each rally highlights or chooses to avoid depends on political hedging or need to align the asks with the current mood. The SIIA event next week is pushing for a silver bullet aimed at the wrecking ball of GC backlogs.
Links to bills in focus for the H1B/ H4/ community:
Fairness For High Skilled Immigrant Act of 2017, sponsored by Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), now taken over by Kevin Yoder ( R-Utah)
Raise Act - a bill, sponsored by Sen Tom Cotton (R-Arizona)
Twitter | @byniknat
Published Date: Feb 04, 2018 20:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 20:25 PM