High stakes game for H1B workers on Green Card waitlist as immigration showdown begins in US today

By Nikhila Natarajan.

Get your popcorn.

Nearly ~1.5 million Indians on Green Card (GC) waitlists will be treated to edge of the seat jabbing on immigration negotiation in the US Congress starting this week as Trump’s favourite Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas gets another shot at the spotlight for what is likely to be a historic push to change the fundamental moorings of America’s immigration policy.

The Senate is set to start debate Monday evening in a bid to find a fix for a longlist of immigration policy priorities headlined by DACA – an Obama era concession for hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants. Anything that can get 60 votes will pass and as at 11 a.m EST, the kick-off proposal is being bulked up in a bid to make it as palatable as possible to critics on the uncompromising left.

Why this matters for Indians is this: The Secure and Succeed Act, sponsored by Senators Cotton, Grassley, Cornyn, Tillis, Perdue, Lankford, and Ernst speaks directly to the most pressing concern for Indians who wait an average of 15 years for a decision on their Green Card application – “the proposal generously grandfathers all pending family-based visa applications in order to reward those who chose to follow the law and immigrate legally. The allotment for the Diversity Visa lottery will be reallocated to reduce this backlog and the employment-based visa backlog,” claims Cotton.

The words “reallocation” and “grandfathering” are crucial here for those on employment based immigration waitlists. The average wait time for Indians on GC waitlists is 15 years +.

A grandfather clause is a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from the new rule are said to have been grandfathered in. What will be the reallocation metrics after all the grandfathering is factored in?

For the Indian on GC waitlist, anything that pulls more visas into the employment based immigration category is good news. “If they can remove per-country caps on GC waitlist, woh hamaare liye kaafi hai (that’s enough for us, right now),” is the more simplistic construct of the problem definition in the H1B community anxious to keep its place on the immigration leaderboard with the “legal” label as the news cycle is set to be overwhelmed by cacophony over illegal and undocumented workers.

Harshit Chatur from Houston, Texas, explains the specifics of the four pronged ask from the H1B camp: “End country caps, recapture wasted Green Cards, exempt dependents from any numerical limits in EB* pool, increase proportion of EB immigrant visas in overall green cards.”

Sensing the sway in the current administration geared towards a landmark shift away from family based migration, hundreds of Indian workers on H1B visas travelled from 30 states to Washington DC last week and fanned out to offices of more than 300 Senators and representatives to push for lifting the per-country caps on legal immigration.

In the immigration free-for-all that will be unleashed today, Cotton’s is just one of the bills in focus for the Indian expats. There are several others, listed here. Which of these make inroads will depend on multiple factors – each of the main sponsors’ stakes in the upcoming midterms, are they retiring or not, do they have enough face time with the right hand men in the administration to get some clauses in their bills latched on to big ticket legislation and so on. Also, the fine print on “reallocation”, if that happens, will matter immensely.

Led by Skilled Immigrants In America, the H1B cohort covered key offices including those of immigration focused and high powered Senators Chuck Grassley, Tom Cotton, David Perdue, Lankard, Tillis, Cory Booker, Menendez, Chuck Schumer, Cornyn, Cruz, Crapo, Lindsey Graham, Tammy Baldwin and Kamala Harris. Between in person meetings with “20 Senators” and legislative assistants of 300 + others, the H1B group is hoping to seed the basic distinction between their “legal, high skilled” status and that of issues like DACA where people jumped the fence or came on the back of trucks with no papers or due diligence at the border.

The H1B visa, over its 27 year existence, has become the most strictly regulated work visa in the US visa ecosystem and yet because of the political climate that’s been in the making since the crash of 2008, has become something of a cause celebré for those seeking to explain away the woes of jobless Americans. Also, bad apples among H1B shops have sparked an all out reckoning of the entire visa category leading to delays, multiple layers of scrutiny and more pain points than ever before.

This immigration overhaul movie will play for many weeks. While the Trump-led “merit-based” immigration argument won’t work for all US hopefuls, it might for a small sliver of those who are inching closer to their Green Cards. Success for Trumpism will send American immigration policy back to that of the 1920s but before that, the GC queue is hoping it delivers a shiny bling. For others, this Cyrus Mehta interview outlines the 20 red flags in the Raise Act which is the fountainhead of Trump’s “merit based” plan.

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