Obama vows 'more fair and just' immigration to US

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Nov 22, 2014 00:27 IST

President Barack Obama on Thursday announced sweeping changes in the immigration system to attract highly-skilled foreign workers to the United States.

This was done in a bid to make it easier for foreign students to obtain permission to work after studies. Those already employed will be able to change jobs, and their spouses will be allowed to work.

Around 100,000 students come to the US from India every year, and a bulk of those allowed to work here on H-1B visa (for highly skilled foreigners) are from India too.

They will welcome the changes. As would Indian IT companies, who will now find it easier to transfer employees to their US operations, a top concern for Indian IT companies.

But India should also be prepared to lose the likes of Kunal Bahl, Snapdeal co-founder who was forced to leave the US for India after studies unable to get a work visa.

US loss was India’s gain. Obama wants to change that.

“I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy,” said President Obama.

In a widely anticipated speech, Obama laid out his plan for immigration reforms that he will order using his executive powers, which Republicans have vowed to oppose.

Nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants are likely to acquire temporary immunity from deportation as a result, a central point of the initiative and politically most divisive.

It’s not clear yet if this temporary amnesty would apply to the 450,000 Indians living illegally in the US, because they fulfill none of the terms required to benefit from it.

But Indians legally here will find it easier to stay on, and never return except as tourists or to visit relatives, as a result of the changes Obama has announced.

Foreign students will have better opportunities to find temporary employment after graduation under expanded and extended Optional Practical Training programme.

After graduating form Wharton in 2007, Bahl wanted to stay on and become an entrepreneur, But couldn’t get a visa. He returned to India and eventually co-founded Snapdeal.

Obama just fixed that, and a few others. A major problem for green card holders was an archaic rule that prevented them from changing jobs till they were granted citizenship.

Many remained stuck in grossly underpaying jobs as the green card queue moved slowly, the waiting period is around 10 years. “That’s almost a third of your career,” said a real estate development investor, who was caught in such a situation.

Rules are also being amended to allow spouses of H-1B visa holders whose green card applications have been approved to work — also a major concern for Indian techies.

Leaving the country during a pending green card process will also be allowed with advance permission, called parole.


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