Saudi to consider permanent residence for immigrants
Expatriate community welcomes the green card system with open arms
Estimated an extra $100 billion to be generated yearly till 2020 as non-oil revenue
Dramatic step to encourage foreign skilled workers
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Second Deputy Prime Minister and the youngest Minister of Defense in the world,has announced for its millions of expatriates to introduce a “green card” like system.
Green card is an informal term for the US Permanent Resident Card, that allows individuals to live and work in the country on a permanent basis.With over 9 million foreigners residing in this massive kingdom,the new system would benefit both the immigrants and the government,who aims to double its non-oil revenues and raise at least $ 100 billion each year by 2020.
“The Green Card-like program and a plan to allow employers to hire more foreign workers above their official quotas for a fee could generate $10 billion a year each,” the deputy crown prince told the global news agency,Bloomberg in an 5-hour interview.
In an ambitious attempt to move away from its dependency on oil reserves, the proposed measure is among other programs that aims to overhaul the revenue generation model and ease the burden of lower crude prices.
“It’s a large package of programs that aims to restructure some revenue-generating sectors,” Prince Mohammad told Bloomberg.This initiative has already won an enormous support from immigrants.
“It’s excellent news for expatriates. This will give confidence to them that they belong to this country,” said Karimuddin,
a well-known pediatrician and a recipient of India’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Indian Diaspora Award).“It is a positive move and a visionary initiative,” said Zulqarnain Ali Khan,a Pakistani national who is chairman and CEO of Zultec Group.
“This is actually in recognition of the universal human rights of residency. We are glad to see the host government extending such a privilege to deserving expats,” said John Monterona, convener of the new OFW Forces Worldwide.
With such startling plunge of crude oil prices and instability in the crude oil market,the GCC (Gulf cooperation council) countries have been looking at alternatives to diversify its economy.With this drastic measure, sure is a huge step to stabilize the economy of the gulf kingdom, who have been heavily dependent on their huge oil reserves.
"The American dream is no longer alive," Dr. Tarkeshwar Tiwary lamented, looking back on a decade-long journey he has spent chasing a stable future in the United States for his two Indian-born children
“The American dream is no longer alive,” Dr. Tarkeshwar Tiwary lamented, looking back on a decade-long journey he has spent chasing a stable future in the United States for his two Indian-born children.
“I feel really demeaned,” he said. A 45-year-old pulmonologist at a hospital in central Pennsylvania, Tiwary is one of 300,000-plus Indian immigrants awaiting legal permanent residency under an employment-based visa.
He is among the nearly 50,000 licensed Indian physicians working in the United States, and he says he feels invested in his rural community of 20,878. But the wait for a green card — a pathway to citizenship — is becoming too long to bear.
“What was promised to me was that if I intend to immigrate, I will be immigrating in a reasonable period of time,” Tiwary said. “If I had gone to any other country, like Canada or Australia, I would have been a citizen much, much earlier.” For employment-based visa applicants, the timeline to receive a green card can vary, but none face wait times remotely as long as Indians — up to 151 years for applicants today.
One common route to permanent residency is through an H-1B dual-intent temporary visa, under a “specialty occupation.” Indian nationals comprise three-quarters of all H-1B visa holders — a majority in computer-related occupations — but a 7% per-country, per-year limit on employment-based preference green cards has exacerbated wait times across all professions.
“[Wait times have] been increasing since 2003-2004, where there was a big jump and USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] basically stopped processing them for a couple years,” said David Bier, immigration policy analyst at CATO Institute. “It’s taken off, increasing up to a decade for people who applied 10 years ago. And that’s with serious attrition too. Lots of people have given up.”
Like others in his field, Tiwary’s decision of whether to stay in the U.S. or leave comes down to what is best for the family. His kids — a daughter entering high school and a son at the University of Pittsburgh — have spent a majority of their lives in the U.S. and “think to themselves that they’re American,” but will lack any viable employment options in the country as they enter the job market. That is, unless Tiwary’s luck changes soon.
Rural communities hit hardest
Should Tiwary and other Indian physicians abandon their efforts and leave the U.S., local residents from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland who travel more than an hour for specialized or subsidized care could feel the pinch, adding to the growing health-care shortage woes plaguing rural America.
At Chambersburg’s Keystone Health, nearly one in five patients lives in poverty and 65% of pediatric patients receive medical assistance, according to President & CEO Joanne Cochran. A federally-qualified health center, Keystone relies heavily on foreign-born family doctors, many of them from India on H-1B and J-1 exchange visitor visas.
“We have Indian doctors in family medicine, psychiatry … pediatrics, internal medicine, infectious disease, urgent care…” Cochran told VOA. “It would be a huge hardship [if they were to leave].”
The foreign-born talent at Keystone includes Dr. Jagdeep Kaur, an addiction psychiatrist and mother of two U.S.-born children, ages 3 and 5. In addition to concern for her aging parents abroad, whom she is unable to sponsor, Kaur’s frustration lies in the restrictions that her temporary visa imposes on her work, hampering her ability to grow the scope of her practice and contribute research to the state’s opioid epidemic.
Also in limbo is Dr. Mohamed Abdus Samad, a 32-year-old nephrologist at Chambersburg Hospital, whose dialysis patients travel upward of 80 to 100 kilometers (50 to 60 miles) to see him. As the need for kidney specialists increases and his bonds with patients grow stronger, the decision to wait for a green card becomes harder.
“They are grateful for the care that they get, but it also puts pressure on me,” said Samad, who is on an H-1B visa through 2020. “If I want to make any move, I have to think about what will happen to those patients.”
Christine Newman, a patient of Samad, worries it could take months to book an appointment at another hospital, if he and physicians facing similar predicaments were to leave. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to,” Newman said. “[The U.S. government] should cut through that red tape and get them in.”
Amy Thatcher, a Keystone patient from Spring Run, Pennsylvania, says her Indian doctor, Raghav Tirupathi, saved her life after discovering her hand had become infected by a staph bacteria (MRSA) following a joint replacement procedure. To lose her doctor because of an ongoing visa issue, she said, would be “devastating.” “We base our trust in the people that we see, and we continue to see them,” Thatcher said.
‘Difficult political lift’
At the present rate, Bier, at the CATO Institute, predicts Indian immigrants will continually drop out in large numbers. In February, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the bipartisan Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, which seeks to eliminate the per-country cap on employment-based immigrant visas, while increasing the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas.
But while addressing what Bier calls “nationality-based discrimination,” the House bill and a similar measure introduced in the Senate face opposition among some foreign nationals previously unaffected by the backlog.
Last year, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) sent a letter to corporations lobbying for a previous version of the bill, arguing that it would risk “creating a monopoly over the green card process” and “exacerbate” the impact of the Trump administration’s travel ban on Iranian nationals.
US Supreme Court Upholds Trump’s Travel Ban
“[It’s] a difficult political lift,” Bier told VOA. “Everyone else has an incentive to keep the system the way it is — where Indians have to wait an indefinite period of time, basically — and everyone else basically gets ushered to the front of the line, ahead of them.”
Adding to Indian doctors’ dilemmas is the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposed rules to end the President Barack Obama-era H-4 employment authorization program, known as H4 EAD, which allows certain spouses of H-1B visa workers to gain employment. If rescinded, it would affect some 90,000 spouses — mostly Indian women with advanced degrees.
Geetha Potineni, a network security administrator with master’s degrees in computer science and biotechnology, is one of them. Her husband, Dr. Venkat Konanki — a nine-year pediatrician at Keystone Health — says the prospect of his wife retaining the ability to work is as important as his own eventual green card prospects.
“Instead of that, how about just going back to India?” Konanki recalls of the conversations at home, with Potineni and their two U.S.-born daughters, ages 7 and 9.
“If there was no discrimination in allotting green cards based on country of birth, I would have never needed H4 EAD,” Potineni wrote in an email to VOA. “With two advanced degrees, I never thought of not utilizing my education.” “I’ve always wanted to contribute both at home and outside of it,” she added. (VOA)