US immigration authorities have received about 300,000 applications for employment visas from foreign professional workers in a deluge unleashed by a bit of 'Gandhigiri' by unhappy Indian green card seekers.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said it was swamped by applications for permanent residence visas, known as green cards- numbering more than double the annual limit of 140,000 -- after it gave an additional period ended August 17 to immigrants with professional skills to file such petitions.
The applications came pouring in after the federal agency first said it would not accept any applications for such visas during July and then reversed course following a unique protest by Indian applicants for permanent residency.
The Indians sent thousands of flowers to USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez in the second week of July to protest a last minute reversal of a June announcement offering expedited processing for H1-B visa holders.
"The public reaction to the July 2 announcement made it clear that the federal government's management of this process needs further review," Gonzalez announced July 17, acknowledging the Indian workers' protest inspired by the hit Hindi movie "Lage Raho Munnabhai" that extolled Gandhian ways of non-violent protest.
According to official figures, in the three months before July, the agency received an average of 54,700 applications a month for all green cards, including employment visas and those based on family ties. Applications were already surging then as foreigners sought to file papers before higher processing fees took effect July 30.
"That is a fantastically high number," said Carl Shusterman, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, cited by the New York Times. Shusterman said he thought 300,000 was the highest number of employment applications the immigration agency had received in the 31 years he had practiced immigration law.
Presenting their applications did not guarantee that immigrants would receive their green cards quickly, since the annual limit remains the same. All the applications did was ensure the immigrants' places on the list for green cards.
The visa roller coaster ride began June 12, when the state department announced that visas would be available in July for a variety of professional immigrants.
The state department offers visas, and USCIS processes applications for them. Immigrants eligible for employment visas include doctors, nurses and people with advanced degrees and technology skills. Before they can apply, they must obtain certification from the federal government that no American workers are available for their jobs.
After thousands of foreigners hurried to prepare applications, the state department said abruptly July 2 that no visas would be available after all because the immigration agency had accelerated its processing and claimed them.
After a nationwide outcry from lawyers and the flowery protest from the Indian green card seekers, the federal agencies relented July 17, saying applications would be received until Aug 17.
The about-face was a relief for thousands of high-skilled immigrants seeking green cards after working in the United States on temporary visas. Once their applications have been officially received, they will have more job mobility and their spouses can apply for work authorisation.
"It reinforced my belief in the American way of government," said Satish Kumar, 31, a visa applicant who is a software programmer from India working for a California technology company, cited by the Times.
But because of annual limits, the new green card applications will vastly increase backlogs. Most new applicants will still face waits as long as five years before they receive their green cards.
"The root of the problem is the arcane and ridiculous limit on visas for skilled immigrants whom the United States wants," Murtuza Bahrainwala, 38, an Indian doctor in Decatur who applied last month, was quoted as saying by the daily.