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US House to vote on fate of thousands of Indians waiting for Green Cards

“Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019” is being fast-tracked because of the overwhelming support it enjoys among the lawmakers in the US House of Representatives.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2019 23:16 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
USA,Green Card,Indians
Highly-skilled Indian workers at a rally in 2018 in front of the White House in Washington demanding an end to the per-country limit on legal permanent residency so as to eliminate the massive Green Card backlog. (PTI FILE PHOTO)

The US House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a legislation that seeks to remove country-limits on Green Cards to end the waiting period for more than 300,000 Indians and their dependents, some of whom could theoretically be in the queue for more than 100 years otherwise.

“Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019”, as the bill is called, is being fast-tracked because of the overwhelming support it enjoys among the lawmakers; it has been co-sponsored by more than 290 of the House’s 435 members, more than the two-thirds needed.

“We expect the bill to pass, and once the bill passes, we are hopeful that the momentum from a strong House vote will convince the Senate to work out a way to pass the bill,” said Leon Fresco, counsel to Immigration Voice, an advocacy group that has been arguing for country-cap removal for years. A variation of the legislation is before the senate.

The bill which was introduced jointly by a Democrat and Republican Congresspersons in February, seeks to remove the limit of 7% on the number of employment-related Green Cards that can be issued to nationals of any one country annually and raise the family-related limit from 7% to 15%.

Indians stand to benefit from the change because they are the worst sufferers of the existing country-limit that annually moves all those left behind to the backlog queue, which grows longer every year. Theoretically, the waiting time for anyone entering the line now is an astonishing 119 years.

Also read: Two Democratic lawmakers move Bill to protect H-1B spouse work permits

These are all H-1B holders whose employers are sponsoring their Green Cards. While they wait, their spouses are allowed to work under an authorization that the Trump administration is determined to terminate and their children “age out” after they turn 21, when they can no longer stay on as dependents.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has said there are 306,601 Indians waiting for their Green Cards. But these are only the primary applicants. Immigration voice estimates that along with their dependents and those starting the process the number is much higher, at around 1.5 million.

Their case has enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, home to federal US legislature, and for years. But they have also faces opposition from critics who say these foreign-born men and women are taking away American jobs, citing lay-offs caused by outsourcing.

There is an army of opponents and critics who have argued their case aggressively, making it all about Indians. Paul Gosar, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, introduced a rival bill in the House earlier this month and called it the “Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act”.

It was to counter, he said, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris’s “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act”, a variation of the house bill the half-Indian-American lawmaker moved in the senate. Gosar, notably, omitted naming the co-sponsor of this bill, Senator Mike Lee, a fellow Republican.

Gosar had gone on to re-tweet a news article from ultra-conservative Breitbart that ran under a headline that left nothing really to imagination: “Kamala Harris promises opportunity, but hides Indian outsourcing bill”. It’s Harris’s bill in their eyes because it helps Indians. There was no mention of the Representatives Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat, and Ken Buck, a Republican, who had jointly introduced the house bill.

Despite the opposition, the bill is likely to pass the House, given the support it enjoys there. But there are no guarantees, and Immigration Voice, the advocacy group, knows it better than most.

“Together, for over a decade, we have been in this fight for fairness and justice to be treated equally under the law,” it wrote on its Facebook page Monday. “We are closer than ever to getting this bill done.” But it went on to say that if these opponents prevailed “be assured that we will all be stuck in the back for the rest of our lives”.

First Published: Jul 09, 2019 22:52 IST