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Indian Visa-holders while Waiting for Green Cards See Hope in Donald Trump Review

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US President Donald Trump, VOA

When Gokul Gunasekaran was offered a full scholarship for a graduate program in electrical engineering at Stanford University, he saw it as the chance of a lifetime.

He had grown up in Chennai, India, and had a solid job offer with a large oil company after getting his undergraduate degree.

He came to America instead, got the Stanford degree and now works as engineer at a data science startup in Silicon Valley.

But for the past five years, he has been waiting for a green card that would give him full legal rights as a permanent resident. In the meantime, he is in a holding pattern on an H1-B visa, which permits him to live and work in the United States but does not allow him easily to switch jobs or start his own company.

“It was a no-brainer when I came to this country, but now I’m kind of regretting taking that scholarship,” said Gunasekaran, 29, who is also vice president with a nonprofit group called Immigration Voice that represents immigrants waiting for green cards.

Many from India

Immigration Voice estimates there are 1.5 million H1-B visa holders in the country waiting for green cards, many of whom are from India and have been waiting for more than a decade.

Many of these immigrants welcomed President Donald Trump’s executive order this week to the federal departments overseeing the program to review it, a move that may lead to H1-B visas being awarded to the highest-paying, highest-skilled jobs rather than through a random lottery.

Their hope is that merit-based H1-Bs might then lead to merit-based green cards.

“I think less random is great,” said Guru Hariharan, the CEO and founder of Boomerang Commerce, an e-commerce startup.

Hariharan, who was previously an executive at Amazon.com and eBay, spent 10 years waiting for his green card and started his own company as soon as he got it.

Green cards can be a path to naturalization, and Hariharan expects to become a U.S. citizen soon.

H1-B visas are aimed at foreign nationals in occupations that generally require specialized knowledge, such as science, engineering or computer programming. The U.S. government uses a lottery to award 65,000 such visas yearly and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers.

The H1-B and the green-card system are technically separate, but many immigrants from India see them as intimately connected.

Cap on green cards

The number of green cards that can go to people born in each country is capped at a few percent of the total, without regard to how large or small the country’s population is. There is a big backlog of Indian-born people in the line, given the size of India’s population — 1.3 billion — and the number of its natives in the United States waiting for green cards.

That leaves many of those immigrants stuck on H1-B visas while they wait, which they say makes them almost like “indentured servants,” said Gaurav Mehta, an H1-B holder who works in the financial industry.

Mehta has a U.S.-born son, but he could be forced to take his family back to India at any time if he loses his job and cannot find another quickly.

“He’s never been to my country,” Mehta said of his son. “But we’ll have no choice if we have to go. Nobody likes to live in constant fear.”

The H1-B visa is tied to a specific employer, who must apply for the visa and sponsor the employee for a specific job laid out in the visa application. To switch employers, the visa holder must secure paperwork from his current employer and find another employer willing to take over the visa.

Some H1-B holders suspect that employers purposely seek out Indian immigrants because they know they will end up waiting for green cards and will be afraid to leave their employers.

But changing the green-card system away from country caps to a merit-based system would require an act of Congress. Some executives also worry that allocating H1-Bs and green cards based on salary — while it would be done to counter the argument that immigrants undercut American workers — would hurt startups that cannot afford high wages.

Practical steps

In the meantime, H1-B holders like Nitin Pachisia, founding partner of a venture capital firm called Unshackled Ventures, are taking more practical measures. His firm specializes in taking care of the legal paperwork so that H1-B holders can start their own companies, a process that is possible but tricky.

Pachisia is hopeful that changes to the H1-B visa program could revive interest in making the entire system, from H1-B visas to green cards and eventual citizenship, more merit-based and focused on immigrants who are likely to start companies and create jobs.

“If the purpose of our high-skilled immigration program is to bring in the most talented people, let’s use that as a lens. From that perspective, it’s a good thing we can focus on the most talented, and I’d say most entrepreneurial, people,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. President Donald Trump Administration Says There Is No Return For US-Born Jihadist

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth. 

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Two women, reportedly wives of IS fighters, wait with others in the internally displaced persons camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate, Syria, Feb. 7, 2019. The United States is refusing to take back a U.S.-born IS propagandist, saying she is no longer a citizen. VOA

The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist who wants to return from Syria, arguing that she is no longer a citizen.

The Trump administration’s refusal to admit Hoda Muthana, 24, could set precedent and face legal challenges, because it is generally extremely difficult to lose US citizenship.

“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

“We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria,” he added.

Pompeo did not elaborate on the legal rationale for why the Alabama native, who is believed to have traveled to Syria on her U.S. passport, was not considered a citizen or where she should go instead.

Pompeo’s statement on Muthana — one of the comparatively few U.S.-born jihadists amid the hundreds of Europeans to have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in Syria — is at odds with his calls on other countries to take back and prosecute their own jihadist nationals.

Just this weekend, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to chastise European allies who have not taken back IS prisoners caught in Syria.

US-born, then radicalized

Muthana was born in the United States to parents from Yemen who became naturalized American citizens, according to the Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University, which has identified 64 Americans who went to join IS in Syria or Iraq.

In late 2014, shortly after moving to Syria, Muthana posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women who appeared to torch their Western passports, including an American one.

She went on to write vivid calls over social media to kill Americans, glorifying the ruthless extremist group that for a time ruled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.

But with IS down to its last stretch of land, Muthana has said she renounced extremism and wanted to return home.

Muthana, who has been detained by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, said that she had been brainwashed by reading social media as a closeted teenager in Hoover, Ala.

“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a note to her lawyer reported by The New York Times.

Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen.
Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen. VOA

She was married three times to male jihadists and has a toddler son.

Hard to lose citizenship

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.

Britain asserted that she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship because of her heritage, but the Dhaka government on Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leading her to become effectively stateless.

U.S. citizenship is significantly more difficult to lose. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War as slavery was abolished, establishes that anyone born in the country is a citizen with full rights.

In recent years, it has been considered virtually impossible to strip Americans of citizenship, even if they hold dual nationality.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1967 Afroyim decision rejected the government’s attempt to revoke the nationality of a Polish-born naturalized American after he voted in Israel.

And last year a federal judge rejected a government attempt to strip the nationality of a Pakistani-born naturalized American who was convicted in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

Also Read: Google With A New Cloud Computing System, Aims Winning Big-Spending Customers

But Trump has campaigned on a hard line over immigration and raised the prospect of ending birthright citizenship ahead of last year’s congressional elections.

In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered drone strikes that killed two Americans in Yemen — prominent al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son — but did not believe it was possible to revoke citizenship. (VOA)