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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
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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)

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Brown: The colour of toil but non-acceptance across the West?

"This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship is denied."

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Police Chief David Brown. Image Source: Twitter
  • Kamal Al Solaylee’s book Brown highlights the problems of ‘brown’ people in Trump’s rule
  • Donald Trump is often accused of malingering the image of brown people
  • this book cites many examples of discrimination which brown people go through

Title: Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone); Author: Kamal Al Solaylee

All our social development and our technological advancements don’t seem enough to eradicate our long-persisting atavistic sense of difference based on appearance, which though long-suppressed is now emerging free from its restraints — as proved by the recent intemperate comments by US President Donald Trump on immigrants from a certain set of countries.

Trump’s thinking, as seen in his off-the-cuff remarks, underscore that the questionable classification of race, expressed by the obviously evident and inescapable feature of a person’s skin, is well alive — and extends beyond the white-black binary. What about the yellow, or rather, the (as necessary for the global economy but far more exploited) brown?

Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons
Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons

Trump is only one leading manifestation of the malaise facing brown people — which include West Asians, Latin Americans, North Africans, and South and Southeast Asians — and far beyond the West too or from the “Whites”, says Yemeni-origin, Egypt-bred, Canadian journalist-turned-academician Al Solaylee in this book.

Trump’s victory “largely (but not exclusively)” rode on demonising Mexicans, galvanising sentiment against Muslims and championing white nationalism, the vote for Brexit was mostly pioneered by those with a restrictive view of Englishness, the record of Canada under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — all these are obscure racial conflicts brewing in the US and Europe for decades now.

Also Read: Mexico can learn about dealing with diaspora from India: Claudia Ruiz-Massieu Salinas

“Examine these tensions closely and you’ll find a strong anti-brown sentiment at the core,” says Al Solaylee as he traces the response to, as well as the experiences of, the residents of Global South, who are forced to migrate to — and much needed in — the Developed North for various reasons, not least of which is the latter’s colonial record.

“Brown as the colour of cheap labour continues on a global scale… brown bodies undertake the work that white and older immigrant Americans refuse to do (and those black slaves were forced to do in previous centuries).

These are low-skill, labour-intensive jobs in unforgiving climates,” he says, but also that these are not limited to the Western nations but also in the more affluent parts of Asia itself too.

“This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship is denied; our presence as Muslims or religious minorities is offered as an example of the tolerant, diverse societies in which we live, but we continue to be feared,” says Al Solaylee.

And there is no difference whether this is deliberate or mistaken as he goes to cite the cases of the racist slurs on Sikh volunteers feeding the homeless in Manchester in the wake of the May 2017 terror attack, or the fatal shooting of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla in the US in February 2017 by an American who thought he and his friend were Iranians and screaming at them to “get out of his country”.

Al Solaylee contends we think of brown as a “continuum, a grouping — a metaphor, even — for the millions of darker-skinned people who, in broad historical terms, have missed out on the economic and political gains of the post-mobility, equality and freedom”. They are now living, he says, among former colonial masters where they are “transforming themselves from nameless individuals with swarthy skins into neighbours, co-workers and friends”.

You may also like: List of 50 People who have affected Hinduism in a Negative Manner 

And it is their story he tells — both in their homes from the Philippines to Sri Lanka and workplaces from Hong Kong to the Gulf as well as Western Europe and North America.

Al Solaylee, however, starts with first recounting his own childhood experience on learning he is brown after seeing an English movie featuring a white child and coming to terms with “brownness” in his journeys around the world and interactions with other browns (fairness creams figure largely as well as the concern that he settle down) as well as Brown’s significance in nature and culture.

He then takes up the human obsession with race, despite the concept being debunked, except in politics before his exploration of the experiences and consequences of being brown around the world.

A stirring travelogue, incisive social and political comment and a passionate cry to rise above unavoidable consequences of geography and genes, this invaluable work rises in importance beyond its subject to be a seminal guide to the world today — and what it will soon be — particularly the US. IANS