H1B workers launch final burst of immigration policy lobbying as March 23 deadline looms

One final heave.

Indians in the US hoping for a breakthrough in their efforts to drastically reduce the 10-15 year long average wait for employment based Green Cards are bringing on a final burst of lobbying as a March 23 deadline draws closer. Messages likes these below are flying in social media groups, the urgency is palpable: "Omnibus Bill must pass by March 23rd, 2018 to avoid the government shutdown. It may include major legal immigration proposals. Many of us have already attended the rallies in DC, met and called lawmakers.Please create Twitter handles, if you don't have one. Tweet, Retweet and tag the lawmakers, media outlets in large numbers to make them aware about our situation. This could be our last push to include amendments via 'legislation' that will help High Skilled Foreign workers, H4 dependent spouses and children."

After fanning out to politico's offices in Washington DC earlier this month, H1B workers who have organized a first of its kind nationwide advocacy have made inroads into media coverage in US based news networks - NBC, BBC, CNN and Fox News, all in the last few weeks on the trot.

A massive ‘omnibus’ spending bill must pass by March 23 which would fund the US Government for the rest of the fiscal ( till October 1, 2018). With the midterm elections looming in November, Washington is factoring that this could be the last train leaving the station before politicos look to feather their nests ahead of the crucial Fall 2018 elections.

In these circumstances, what would a win look like for the India camp? If the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017” bill - the H.R 392 glues onto whatever the Congress passes and makes the cut, it would be a huge achievement that will likely set off nationwide celebration. This bill stands out for its sheer number of co-sponsors till date - 317 in all including 25 original sponsors. The bipartisan break up is 170 Democratic, 147 Republican. When the support is such, trust right wing news sources to sit up and take notice. Breitbart is following this closely.

March 23 is almost here and Indians on long Green Card waitlists are hoping to see their concerns addressed in the upcoming Omnibus spending bill/ REUTERS

March 23 is almost here and Indians on long Green Card waitlists are hoping to see their concerns addressed in the upcoming Omnibus spending bill/ REUTERS

This bill seeks to weed out an arbitrary per-country cap in the employment-based green card laws. Of the 140,000 green cards the US gives out each year in this category, only ~9,800 can go to applicants any one particular nation. India has roughly ~1.5million people in the GC queue and the simplest math adds up to an average wait time of ~ 15 years for each applicant.
immigrants from other smaller nations can get the same job done in less than 3 years.

Kevin Yoder, the lead sponsor explains the nub in a Forbes interview: “For example, there is 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 that person will get their 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. My bill would remove the cap and transition us to a first-come, first-serve, merit-based system that will help clear out the existing backlog and put everyone on an even playing field.”

So, what does all this mean for efforts to ram this bill into law while there is still an urgency and a deadline to help it along? That depends on whether the 'nibble' of add-ons ( like clearing the GC backlog) are seen as worthwhile to the main agenda as defined by the White House. And, what is that?

Is it DACA?

It was. Not anymore.

The so-called March 5 deadline came and went. The courts stepped in where lawmakers could not and DACA renewals continue. Also, Democrats want to keep DACA negotiations separate from omnibus negotiations. To pass, any bill will need a supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate, which has been nearly impossible to come by.

Four immigration bills quilted with bits and pieces of various stakeholder priorities failed to make the grade just before the Florida shooting brought Congress to a screeching halt.

With his focus clearly on the midterm elections, it it seems like Trump is already the first to move on from drumming on about DACA. By slapping tariffs on metal imports, he is playing Candidate Trump again, fulfilling campaign promises and rallying working class white Americans behind his effort to reign for the “next 7 years”.

Trump’s White House may be riddled with resignations but his voter base is not budging an inch. If he can swing the midterm elections too, that gives Trump far more leverage to push his immigration agenda at a later date than at this time. If slapping tariffs on the whole world is the way to get there on the back of strong job numbers, so be it is how his immigration A team is possibly playing this.

It’s not entirely clear how DACA - which is essentially a product born of illegal immigration - became the primary focus of the immigration debate, leaving legal immigrants both at risk of being misunderstood and on the fringes of policy making priorities.

“It’s ridiculous but the fact is that if illegal immigrants are not bound by a deadline or urgency, then we (legal immigrants waiting in the Green Card queue) will not be a priority. That’s the bottom line,” says a Green Card applicant on the EB2 quota who filed in 2010.

Updated Date: Mar 10, 2018 00:34 AM

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