PFIR’s Excecutive Director responds to the Oct. 3, 2019, WaPo article, “A D.C. family stranded in India by our dysfunctional immigration system,” by Petula Dvorak.
Response immediately below; WaPo article below response:
I read with great interest your article entitled “A D.C. family stranded in India by our dysfunctional immigration system.” I was saddened to hear of the plight of what appear to be a very bright husband and wife and their children.
However, I believe they are outliers rather than the norm in what has become systemic abuse of our employment visa system. In this instance, it is the H-1B visa program. Unlike Saurav and Ishita, the vast majority of those in the U.S. on H-1B visas are NOT “highly skilled.” Rather, the majority are quite ordinary workers. Over 70% of the workers here on H-1B visas are skill levels I & II in a four-tier system.
The backlog you mentioned in your article is caused by several factors. First and foremost being the U.S. admits between 85,000 and 120,000 H-1B visa holders a year. The term of the H-1B visa is three years, and a three-year extension is typically granted. But many H-1B visa holders do not return home after that term. Because the H-1B visa is a “dual-intent” visa, the person on an H-1B can come to the U.S. as a temporary worker and then apply for an employment-based Green Card (EB GC). Understand, 74% to 80% of H-1Bs are awarded to people from just one country, and that country is India. Why is this?
Answer: U.S. corporations are starving for cheap, easily exploitable labor. As we saw with cases such as Walt Disney, SoCal Edison, Northeast Utilities and many, many more, U.S. corporation have been displacing their knowledge workers by outsourcing their jobs to contracting firms such as Tata Consultancy Services, Cognizant, Infosys, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and others who themselves hire large numbers of H-1B workers who are then used to displace U.S. workers. This is what one knowledge worker wrote me just yesterday in an e-mail:
“I have degrees in math and computer science from the late 80s. Ditto my husband. He’s a Database Administrator. We’ve both been in IT our entire careers and are SICKENED to see what’s happened with all of the outsourcing. We are sick of training our Indian replacements, having to sign ‘we won’t sue’ paperwork in order to get our severance packages, etc. We are high performers with careers of commendations and promotions, but now that we are in our early 50s, we honestly worry if this field will take us to retirement (and we have two high schoolers we need to put through college).”
Continuing on with the reason for the backlog… As I mentioned, the term for an H-1B worker is three years with another three-year extension. However, once an H-1B visa holder applies for an EB GC, s/he doesn’t have to leave the U.S. I believe it was the George W. Bush administration that created that policy. As a result, there are currently more than 500,000 Indians with H-1B visas waiting for an EB GC.
Imagine a water pipe that moves thousands of gallons of water and then those thousands of gallons are forced into a much smaller pipe with a capacity to move only a hundred gallons or less. That is what happens when all of these Indians waiting for EB GC run up against the annual country quotas.
You see, the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 created caps for all countries in the various Green Card categories to ensure diversity among the new arrivals to the country. Prior to this time, most immigrants came from Northern Europe. The idea was that no one country or region would dominate our immigration system. In the EB GC category, the cap is 7% per country. India actually takes much more, sometimes as much as 25% because many countries do not use their full allocation, and those EB GC can then be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
The U.S. is in desperate need of employment visa reform; reform that works in the best interests of the citizens and ensures new arrivals are not subject to exploitation. The S. 386 legislation you cited in your article will not ease the backlog. All it would do would be to allow one country, India, to dominate the EB GC for the next ten years to the detriment of those from other countries who have applied for Green Cards. This is why so many ethnic lobbies oppose this legislation. These ethnic groups include the Chinese, Irish, Polish, Mexicans and many others. S. 386, which is backed by powerful corporate interests, only rewards bad behavior.
Like many problems plaguing our country, the backlog is a complicated one. But there are solutions. I believe that Saurav and Ishita would greatly benefit from employment visa reforms that would end the dual-intent nature of the H-1B visa and not allow contracting firms like Infosys to sponsor H-1B visa workers that are used to displace U.S. workers.
If you would like to learn more about my perspective on the matter, please visit us at www.ustechworkers.org.
Progressives for Immigration reform
The Washington Post
Oct. 3, 2019
They’ve been stranded in India for seven weeks now.
In a stubborn display of optimism that our country’s dysfunctional immigration system will somehow work, Saurav Mazumdar refuses to buy any new clothes.
“I packed for two weeks. Two shirts, two pants,” said Mazumdar, 42, whose two-week vacation to visit relatives and renew his H1B visa in India has turned into a nightmare.
Why should he buy more clothes? He has plenty of clothes back home in Washington, where he has lived for almost two decades.
Mazumdar, his wife and their two American-born children can’t get back to their home in Northwest Washington, to their jobs, friends or classrooms. They are stuck in a black hole of paperwork and nonanswers from our erratic, broken legal immigration system. You know, the one everyone hating on undocumented immigrants thinks is easy.
“I guess we were naive enough to think this couldn’t happen to us,” said Mazumdar’s wife, Ishita Menon, 41, who holds a PhD from Georgetown University and serves on the special events committee at her son’s D.C. elementary school.
While they wait, their kids, Sameer, 6, and Sitara, 11, try to keep up with schoolwork.
“It’s really hard to explain to a 6-year-old why he can’t go back home,” Mazumdar said.
Sameer goes on FaceTime with his best friend, Owen, once a week. His teacher has sent him pictures from the class, telling him how much they miss him.
Sitara, meanwhile, is missing practices with the prestigious youth orchestra she earned a seat in after nailing her audition right before the summer.
Mazumdar and Menon came to the United States 19 years ago to get their master’s degrees.
“I’ve been in a lot of countries, but I fell in love with Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The fact that museums are free. And it’s the people who make the difference; the people in the U.S. are amazing. People in the U.S., in general, are well-meaning.”
And all of the innovations in his field — data engineering and artificial intelligence — were happening in the United States. And he got job offers at the highest levels as a coveted brain in this fast-developing area of expertise.
He is exactly the kind of immigrant President Trump says he wants: skilled, valued, smart.
Menon loved the District, too. They bought a condo near Washington National Cathedral and had their babies at Georgetown University Hospital.
And they were faithful in keeping all their paperwork up-to-date: Mazumdar’s H1B visa, designed for skilled workers, and Menon’s H4 visa, the spousal companion to an H1B. He has to return to India every three years to have his passport restamped and the visa renewed. Every three years, the kids got to see their grandparents and their extended family, and then returned to Washington.
Knowing they wanted to spend the rest of their lives in the United States, the couple applied for green cards eight years ago. That should be fine, right? Any day now, they should be able to raise their right hands and become U.S. citizens.
Not so fast.
Because there’s a major backlog of highly educated, highly skilled people from India seeking green cards, their wait could be anywhere from 75 to 115 years.
Yes, years. Preposterous, right?
This summer, the Democratic-controlled House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which would help ease that backlog from India in particular. The Republican-controlled Senate is futzing with its own version.
Meanwhile, Mazumdar and Menon are stuck in limbo.
Right after he got to India in July, Mazumdar dropped off his passport and paperwork at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, as he had done many times before.
The family enjoyed their time, and everything seemed on track when he received an email, eight days later, saying that his passport was ready. Perfect.
But when he went to pick it up, there was no stamp. Instead, he got a letter saying he needed to come in for an interview. So he went the next day, had a straightforward interview, got fingerprinted and got a document telling him everything was being held up.
The family canceled their Aug. 13 plane tickets back to Washington and hired an immigration lawyer. They prowl for ideas on online immigration forums, where hundreds of other H1B families are experiencing the same nightmare.
The State Department keeps returning Mazumdar’s emails with a warning that “before making inquiries about status of administrative processing, applicants should wait at least 180 days from the date of interview or submission of supplemental documents, whichever is later.”
That’s six months of school missed. Six months of work missed. Six months in the same two shirts and same two pairs of pants.
And even after those six months, there’s no guarantee that this hard-working family will be able to come back home to America.