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Indians in queue for Green Cards pin hopes on legislation debate to remove per country limits

Two legislations set to come up for debate include proposals to remove the per country limits, which, if enacted, could potentially cut the waiting period for Indians drastically to six or seven years.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2018 18:58 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
India,American Green Card,Green Card
A current US law prevents foreign nationals from any one country from getting more than 7% of the annual distribution of Green Cards under a system known as ‘per country limits’.(AFP File Photo)

Over three lakh Indians are waiting with bated breath as US lawmakers prepare to debate two immigration legislations next week to thrash out issues that have defied resolution for years, including interminably long waiting period for permanent American residency, also called Green Card, a crucial step away from citizenship.

This is the closest Indians will have come in years to see a resolution of their situation, about which they have lobbied and engaged several administrations and the White House, many senators and House representatives, both in Capitol Hill and at their constituency offices.

Indians have to wait the longest for permanent residency, between 70 and 100 years, because current US law prevents foreign nationals from any one country from getting more than 7% of the annual distribution of Green Cards under a system known as ‘per country limits’. With many more Indians applying for residency every year than other foreign nationals, their backlog is the longest.

Last Thursday, Republican leaders of the House of Representatives in consultation with the White House picked two immigration legislations for debate and passage next week. Both legislations include proposals to remove the per country limits, which, if enacted, could potentially cut the waiting period for Indians drastically to six or seven years.

The present flurry of legislative action on immigration comes against the background of an approaching deadline for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, their stay temporarily guaranteed by an Obama-era presidential decree called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Last year, President Donald Trump announced his decision to end the programme and has since tied its revival, as a bargaining chip, to some of his signature anti-immigration measures such as funding for a wall along the border with Mexico to end illegal immigration, gang activity and cross-border smuggling of drugs.

But will he back a deal such as this one?

“Eliminate the per-country numerical limit on employment based immigrants and increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-based immigrants from 7% to 15 % of the total number of family sponsored visa with no change in the overall number of visas issued,” said a draft of the main Republican bill published Wednesday by McClatchy DC news bureau.

Immigration Voice, a non-profit body advocating removal of per country limit to address abnormal waiting period for Indians for Green Card, mainly H-1B visa holders sponsored by their US employers to stay on, saw in that draft a recognition of the problem and their best bet at resolution in years.

“We are grateful that the House leadership has heard our stories over the past 12 years and they have agreed on the common sense legislation HR (House of Representatives) 392, the bill to remove per country limits from employment based green cards, as part of Immigration debates coming up next week,” said Vikram Desai of Immigration Voice referring to the bill introduced by Republican lawmaker Kevin Yoder that has gathered 325 co-sponsors in a 435-member House.

The US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS), the government agency that oversees immigration, said in a recent statement the number of Indians in the queue for Green Cards was 306,601. That is only the number of primary applicants, not including spouses and children.

Immigration Voice, however, maintains there are an estimated 1.5 million Indians waiting for Green Cards and their waiting period, at the current rate of clearance of applications and backlog is between 70 and 100 years; past their lifetime and that of their children, especially those not born here.

Even if the bill passed the House — with the support of Republicans who control the chamber — it would require buy-in from Democrats to clear the senate. And that will be impossible unless the bill passed by the House was cleansed of issues that rile Democrats — such as ending family-based migration and diversity visa, both high on Trump’s hit-list.

One of the bills could still go all the way defying expectation. But if it doesn’t, there is a fall back plan in place, that those advocating removal of per country limit don’t want to discuss for fear of “attracting undue attention” from immigration hardliners waiting to kill a deal.

This is the closest these Indians have come to realizing their American dream in years. A similar bill passed the House in 2011 had fizzled out.

Will they fare better this time?

First Published: Jun 14, 2018 14:51 IST