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Afraid of ‘ageing out’, Indian children of H-1B parents speak up

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, anyone turning 21 prior to receiving permanent residence (Green Card) cannot be considered a child for immigration purposes. This situation is described as ‘Ageing out’.

world Updated: Feb 10, 2018 22:52 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
H-1B,Visa,Green Card
Hundreds of H-1B visa-holding Indians waited to lobby congressional leaders and staff members in Washington DC last week. (AFP FILE PHOTO/REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE)

For a 12- or 13-year-old child of an H-1B visa holder-parent waiting for Green Card, ‘ageing out’ is not a concept easy to understand, but enough to know it will affect them.

Mohit Nagendra, a 13-year-old from New Jersey, first heard of ‘ageing out’ a week back, as something that could affect him or turn his life upside down.

Like teens his age, he Googled it and concluded, “It means that when you turn 21, you have to apply for your own H-1 visa (he meant H-1B), and if you don’t get it … you have to self-deport yourself, and you have to leave this country and go back to your home country.”

He worries about having to “pretty much start all over again” if he had to return.

For Adhitya Arasu, a 12-year-old from Ohio, ageing out meant: “When you are 21, you become an international student and have to pay double the fee (for college).”

Neither was technically right completely, or wrong.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal government agency that administers this law, describes ageing out as: “Anyone who turned 21 at any point prior to receiving permanent residence (Green Card) could not be considered a child for immigration purposes. This situation is described as ‘Ageing out’.”

Drastic consequences follow, as Nagendra amd Arasu know and understand, well enough to skip school past Thursday to stand with their parents in the open, freezing cold in Capitol Hill, with hundreds of other H-1B visa-holding Indians as they waited to lobby congressional leaders and staff members.

This was the third wave of Indian H-1B visa holders waiting for their Green Card coming to Washington DC from all over the country this past week to involve themselves into the ongoing immigration debate triggered by the plight of 700.000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and now face the prospect of deportation because their Obama-era protection has been rescinded by President Donald Trump.

The first group was led by the Republican Hindu Coalition and it held a demonstration outside the White House. The second, led by Immigration Voice, lobbied congressional leaders and staffers intensively in support of a long-standing legislation sympathetic to their cause. And the last, that had Nagendra and Asau and their parents, was hosted by Skilled Immigration in America. All had the same objective — to cut the waiting time for getting a Green Card.

Nagendra and Arasu’s parents are among an estimated 1.5 million H-1B visa holders with approved Immigrant Petitions waiting for their Green Card, a wait that could for some of them last up to 70 years, according to one estimate, because of an expanding backlog that worsens every year, feeding on a growing number of fresh applications from Indians.

There has been widespread bipartisan support to their plight for years now. A legislation to address the backlog is before the House of Representatives, with more than 300 co-sponsors in the 435-member body. And there is a legislation in the Senate that has the best fix to their problem and, according to its supporters, has the backing of the White House.

They will be following closely the immigration debate that will take place next week as promised by US Senate’s majority leader Mitch McConnell, as part of the budget deal that was signed into law by President Trump on Friday.

Akshita Ramesh, a 13-year-old from Washington DC, dreads the prospect of ageing out. “I worry every night. I don’t want to go back to India. I want to stay here in the US. I grew up in the US. This is my country… It’s just heartbreaking to think I might have to go back and live a totally foreign life.”

Born in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, Akshita came to the US with her father Ramesh Ramanathan and mother, who had lived in Oman for years before. She was a year and a half, and has very little recollection of India. She has been to the country on vacations but really didn’t connect — “not my type”, “it’s too hot and stuff”, she said, adding that she doesn’t speak “any Indian language” and will miss a lot of things here.

But the 13-year-old is clear about her future as youngsters her age who don’t allow chance and happenstance to determine their life-goals. If her parents don’t get their Green Cards in time to rescue her from ageing out, she is prepared to go look for ways to stay on — get an F-1 or an H-1B visa to stay on. “And go through the same struggle they (her parents) did,” she said.

First Published: Feb 10, 2018 12:15 IST