December 11, 2023

Immigration Green Card

Immigration Is Good For You

Techie stuck on green card queue creates unique wish list by Indian H-1B visa holders

4 min read
Debarghya Das, an entrepreneur who is on the founding team of Glean, a unicorn startup with workplace search products, is one of thousands of Indians in the US facing huge delays on long green card queues. An alumnus of Cornell University in computer science who has earlier worked at Google Search and Facebook, Das, who lives in San Francisco, has decided to do something about it.
“I’ve spent 18 years living in the US, with not much legal status to show for it. From getting an F-1 visa as a student, an optional practical training (OPT) permit to work for three years after, an H-1B to extend that by another six years, a green card application (EB-2) and all I have to show for it is a 100+ year wait to even become a legal permanent resident,” he told Times of India.
A vocal advocate of US immigration policy change, Das recently worked with the US President’s Commission for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI), to create a list of the most difficult problems faced by Indians who have been waiting on green card queues. “I have worked with the immigration sub-committee of the AANHPI commission to highlight the H-1B stamping backlogs in India in 2022,” Das said. Recently, the US State Department, has announced a pilot plan starting later in 2023 to stamp H-1B visas in the US; which will be a big relief for many Indians working in the US.
The problem is that of thousands of Indians facing up to a 100+ years wait time to get a green card despite having advanced educational degrees. Those who work in the US on an H-1B work permit are eligible to apply for a green card in the EB-2 & EB-3 (bachelors & master’s degree) categories. However, because the number of green cards is capped by country of birth and 75% of applicants are Indian, the backlog has built up significantly with little recourse, Das explained. “Even though you can renew your H-1B with a green card application approved (I-140) status, if you lose your job, you’re out of status in two months. The transition from H-1B to a green card or permanent residency status is, in my opinion, the single biggest issue with nearly 1 million Indians in this backlog,” he said.
But instead of making recommendations based only on his personal experience; Das decided to present a holistic take on all demands. In an offbeat move, he used his Twitter handle to reach out to those affected by green card backlogs to get their views. “After asking people to respond to a Twitter post; I then used a scraper and hired a freelancer to use some AI tools to aggregate the 500+ responses into the top buckets of requests, aggregated by demand (number of likes).” Of the top 25 clear policy asks that he got; there were two clear groups – some that would require legislation and would need to go through US Congress and others that are achievable through administrative regulation that could be recommended through the AANHPI commission. “Proposals have already been drafted on several of the top requests,” Das said.
Among the top recommendations from Indians waiting in the US on long green card queues that Das received is for employment authorisation documents (EAD), which are issued to H-1B holders when their visas are renewed, and advance parole (AP) documents, which are issued to H-1B visa holders when they travel outside the US when their green card applications are pending, to be issued once the Form I-140 has been approved and the applicant becomes eligible for a green card. For Indians, there is a long and painful wait between the approval of the I-140 and getting the green card. Some other changes that have been recommended by a large percentage of respondents include not counting dependents against the annual quota of green cards available for Indians; increase of grace period for H-1B holders to stay in the US after job loss from two to six months; freezing the age of dependent children on the I-140 form so that they didn’t age out; allowing stamping of H-1B visas in the US instead of having to get it done in India; recapturing unused green cards so that they were not lost; increasing H-1B validity from three to five years; making H-4 EAD incidental to H-1 to allow spouses to work automatically without any additional paperwork and increasing OPT (science, technology, engineering and maths streams) from two to four years.
A lot of the suggestions for policy changes revolved around making the immigration process point based and allowing more flexibility for H-1B visa holders in switching employers or starting their own companies. One of the newest and most important suggestions was increasing the grace period for those on H-1B visas who have recently lost their jobs following the largest lay-offs in the US technology sector since 2000.
Many of the policy asks that Das has received would require legislation through US Congress, a long drawn out process which in the past has yielded little for Indian immigrants. “The Eagle Act (HR 3648) is a Bill that tries to alter country caps but it never makes it past the US House and Senate. The best way to tackle this problem is the administrative ask of EAD + AP after I-140 approval. EAD is an employment authorisation document and AP is advanced parole. Paroling backlogged applicants will effectively let immigrants travel to the US if our green card application (I-140) has been approved even though one is not available, even without another visa,” Das said. An EAD will subsequently let immigrants work in the US not bound to a particular employer. “This policy reduces much of the cruelty – inability to go to family members’ funerals, forcing decade plus residents to move back to India after a layoff – while not requiring legislation, and is by far the biggest action to take,” Das feels.


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