H1B workers 'stuck' in decades long wait for Green Cards rally in New Jersey as immigration enters frontline of US politics

High skilled workers from Asian nations with pre-vetted applications who are “stuck” in a decades long wait for permanent residency (PR) in the United States rallied in New Jersey’s Trenton area, adding their voices to advocacy efforts that have gained velocity in the last 12 months.

Abhijit K Choudhury, an H1B worker at Campbell Soup Company, speaks at the Trenton rally.

Abhijit K Choudhury, an H1B worker at Campbell Soup Company, speaks at the Trenton rally.

High skilled workers who have applied for PR in America are increasingly caught in the crossfire over a complicated immigration system and the US government’s all-out efforts to streamline it with a big bang approach. Indian and other Asian workers who are subject to the highest levels of scrutiny, who are here legally and paying millions in taxes find themselves in the crosshairs of the backlash over more suspect forms of immigration simply because of the catchall nature of the political terms of reference.

The New Jersey event, organized by GCReforms brought together people being tossed around by the "puzzling contradictions" of the employment based visa regulations in the US.

Amit Shah, an H1B workers in the Green Card queue, tells us his piece: "I have two Masters, one in Applied Physics and other in Computer Science and my wife is double Masters (Accounts and Finance and Information Science) and is on H4 EAD. The current immigration situation makes us anxious. I bought a house soon after President Obama passed H4 EAD. Like me, many many of my friends did too. We contribute to economy and pay county and school taxes. But this environment lately has made me rethink before spending a single more penny, not kidding. After all, its only us who will have to look out for ourselves and our family."

Employment based PR or ‘Green Cards’ are subject to multiple checks and are a product of a highly regulated visa system - the H1B. Yet, in the current political climate which voted for a US president who ran on anti-immigration, the employment based applicants are sensing an urgency to find closure and clarity on their future.

Depending on which country you’re from and when you applied, the average wait time for a green card can range from a couple of years to more than a decade. Indians belong to the latter category, with average wait times now pushing 10-15 years in the EB2 and EB3 categories if you applied a decade ago. Applications after 2010 face a much harder path. "In plain language, we won't see our Green Cards until we die if things stay the way they are", says an Indian worker H1B who applied in 2012.

Speakers at the Trenton event and other town halls across America are hoping for legislative breakthrough via bills that remove per country limits in the employment based categories for PR. Increasingly, Indians' advocacy efforts are looping in American citizens from local communities and workplaces because "they understand our situation and are really surprised when we tell them about our status quo", says Anirban Das of Skilled Immigrants in America (SIIA), an advocacy.

But Congressional gridlock is peaking in the Trump era and midterm elections are not far. Skilled workers in America hoping to make longer term plans for their families in America are faced with prolonged uncertainty over the fate of their PR applications.

At one level, advocacy cobbled together loosely on social platforms is muscling its way into America's public square. At another, it's a complete reckoning for the H1B worker in the United States. With arbitrage advantage sliding for companies and a hardening immigration stance by the US government, the promise that the H1B held three decades ago is gone. In its place is a gnawing anxiety which is only growing every year.

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Updated Date: May 08, 2018 03:39:30 IST

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