Undocumented Indians have fresh ray of hope in US with Joe Biden's new policy for immigrants | World News - Hindustan Times
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Undocumented Indians have fresh ray of hope in US with Joe Biden's new policy for immigrants

Jun 27, 2024 06:33 PM IST

While Biden’s new legal protections for illegal immigrants married to Americans has come as a bonanza to Indians, no impact on green card queue likely.

For illegal Indian aliens in the United States, it could well be the slice of luck they aspire to when they migrate, chasing their American dream, but living life in the shadows.

This Biden policy change could also lead to improved financial situations, allowing families to save for college and other expenses, ultimately enhancing their overall economic well-being (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
This Biden policy change could also lead to improved financial situations, allowing families to save for college and other expenses, ultimately enhancing their overall economic well-being (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden’s sweeping new legal protections announced last week for undocumented immigrants living in the US and married to Americans, has come as a bonanza to Indians, who make up the third-largest group of undocumented immigrants in the world’s most preferred destination for emigres.

ALSO READ | Joe Biden's new immigration plan to benefit Indians living in America, here's all we know about ‘parole in place’

The step would make it easier for young immigrants to gain access to work visas, a move that could help them eventually get a green card and protect their legal status in the US.

A finding conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2021 put the number of such Indians at 725,000. They constitute the third largest population of unauthorised immigrants after Mexico and El Salvador, the Washington-based think tank said.

Biden’s move is one of the most wide-ranging presidential actions to protect immigrants in more than a decade.

"It is by any stretch of imagination, a most welcome step, which will lay down the grounds of future immigration policy in many parts of the world,” said S Irudaya Rajan, Chairman International Institute of Migration and Development, Kerala.

ALSO READ | FIIDS USA urges Biden administration to extend immigration relief to spouses and children of backlogged H-1B applicants

Rajan said that there are many foreigners who live in this country – in Goa and other places – and India rarely questions them. “The US is now returning the favour,” he told this reporter. Rajan is one of India’s foremost experts on migration.

Noted The New York Times: “Under the new policy, some 500,000 undocumented spouses will be shielded from deportation and given a pathway to citizenship and the ability to work legally in the United States.”

As of 2021, the US’s 10.5 million unauthorised immigrants represented about 3% of the total U.S. population and 22% of the foreign-born population, the Pew Research Center noted.

There is yet another category of immigrants. Latest data released by USA’s Customs and Border Protection (UCBP) said that from November 2022 to September 2023, a record number of Indians 96,917 were arrested while crossing illegally into the USA.

ALSO READ | ‘Monster joke’: Biden's new immigration policy a setback for H-1B reforms Indian-Americans sought

The number of Indians trying to enter the USA has witnessed a five-fold rise since 2019. Desperate Indians are trying to enter the USA despite many fatalities in attempting the cross over.

According to the new policy, however, the Department of Homeland Security policy will allow these immigrants to apply for work permits and deportation protections if they have lived in the US for at least 10 years and meet other requirements. The programme, however, still requires undocumented spouses to file necessary paperwork and pass a criminal background check and doesn't apply to future migrants. In addition, applicants must have been legally married to their American citizen spouse by June 17.

For many Indian American households, this policy shift could reduce financial strains and contribute to greater economic stability. Undocumented spouses, who can now work legally, could actively contribute to their families' incomes. In most if not all cases, such individuals rarely show up in official documentation for the fear of exposing themselves.

This Biden policy change could also lead to improved financial situations, allowing families to save for college and other expenses, ultimately enhancing their overall economic well-being.

ALSO READ | Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak share immigration dilemma ahead of crucial elections

Additionally, it could extend benefits to H4 dependent children, potentially granting them Employment Authorization Documents (EADs). This would allow them children to pursue summer jobs and save for college expenses, significantly expanding their opportunities compared to current restrictions.

In the past, an Indian (or any illegal national) married to a US citizen, would be required to leave the country to apply for a green card, the lawful permanent residency. This implied being separated from the spouse for long periods of time, leading to other attendant problems.

However, the existing 7 per cent cap per country on the much-coveted green cards is a cause for disquiet for Indian Americans, who face long wait times due to this quota. This policy – as per the Presidential announcement - doesn't seem to address increasing green card availability or hints at introducing reforms in the process.

Dr Krishan Chand, a migration expert, who has co-authored an extensive study of the Indian diaspora with reference to Punjab says, “Foreign government policies change from time to time and are guided by many factors, including their own situation and needs. It is not static. Sometimes politics and bilateral ties play an important role.”

That could well be the case here.

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