Washington: A group of Indian-American frontline healthcare workers languishing in the Green Card backlog held a demonstration in front of the US Capitol urging lawmakers and the Biden administration to end the per capita country-specific quota.
A Green Card, known officially as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants to the US as evidence that the bearer has been granted the privilege of residing permanently in the country.
Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and come to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card or permanent legal residency.
“We are frontline COVID warriors, and we are here to tell how we have been short changed into a life of perpetual indentured servitude. Each of us has a story. We are here from all over the country asking for justice. Justice that has precluded us for decades now,” said Dr Raj Karnatak, an infectious disease and critical care physician and Dr Pranav Singh, a pulmonary and critical care physician.
“Most of us are from India. We trained in the US and took oath as physicians to serve the sick and needy. Most of us are serving the rural and underserved areas. We are in a Green Card backlog due to archaic country caps that allow no country to get more than seven percent of employment-based green cards,” said the two Indian American doctors' organisers of the peaceful protest said in a joint statement.
According to them, due to decades of backlog, many high-skilled immigrants are not able to change jobs due to fear of losing the spot in the Green Card line and are indentured to one employer.
“Can only work in the specialty occupation the visa is allotted for decades. Many healthcare workers could not serve in COVID-19 hot spots as the visas are tied to the job and employer,” they said.
The small group of protestors said that President Joe Biden can direct United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to end the Green Card backlog for the frontline healthcare workers by utilising the unused green cards in the past years.
There was an HR 1044 fairness bill that was passed in the House of Representatives by 365 votes in 2019 and its senate equivalent S386 passed the Senate in 2020.
Now it is back to House as a modified version. Representative Zoe Lofgren, initial co-sponsor of the bill HR 1044 has not shown any interest in bringing the bill to vote as a bipartisan solution to end the suffering of skilled professionals including frontline healthcare workers, they alleged.
Dr Karnatak and Dr Singh said that India is a land of more than a billion people, but the number of green cards India gets is the same as a country as small as Iceland. Indian high-skilled workers are brought into the US on an H-1B visa. There is no country cap on the H-1B visa and due to its sheer population, Indians make 50 percent of the H-1B workforce.
The H-1B visa, the most sought after among Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
The discrepancy in the number of H-1B hired from India and a small number of green cards allotted to India creates an inhumane Green Card backlog.
Green Card backlog is adversely affecting the professional and personal lives of high-skilled immigrants from India including the frontline healthcare workers, they said.
“Frontline healthcare workers need immediate relief, they are suffering for a very long time. As frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives in this pandemic, the least we deserve is a certainty. A certainty that if we die or get disabled, our children and spouses won't be kicked out of the country,” said the joint statement on behalf of the protestors.
Last month, President Biden revoked a policy issued by his predecessor during the pandemic that blocked many Green Card applicants from entering the US.
Reopening the country to people seeking green cards, or legal permanent residence, Biden in his proclamation said that the policy of former president Donald Trump does not advance the interests of the country.
“To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here,” he said.
The US is currently facing a backlog of nearly 473,000 qualified family-based Green Card requests.
As a result of Trump's ban on issuing green cards, as many as 120,000 family-based preference visas were lost. But this came as a big boon for issuing employment-based green cards, mainly those on H-1B visas.