The Biden administration has taken a significant step towards easing norms by releasing policy guidance on the eligibility criteria for individuals waiting for green cards to work and stay in the United States. This move comes just days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, which is scheduled from June 21-24 upon the invitation of President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. During the visit, a state dinner will be hosted for Prime Minister Modi on June 22, and he will also address a Joint Session of Congress on the same day.
The guidance, issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), specifically addresses the eligibility criteria for initial and renewal applications for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in compelling circumstances. This guidance is expected to provide assistance to thousands of Indian technology professionals who have been enduring a long wait for a Green Card or permanent residency in the US.
A Green Card, officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants as proof that they have been granted the privilege of residing permanently in the United States. According to immigration law, approximately 140,000 employment-based green cards are allocated each year. However, only seven per cent of these green cards can be granted to individuals from a single country annually, which has resulted in long waiting periods for individuals from countries with high demand, such as India.
The USCIS guidance outlines specific requirements that applicants must meet in order to be eligible for an initial EAD based on compelling circumstances. These requirements include being the principal beneficiary of an approved Form I-140, maintaining valid non-immigrant status or being in an authorised grace period, not having filed an adjustment of status application, and meeting certain biometrics and criminal background requirements. The USCIS will also exercise discretion in determining whether an applicant demonstrates compelling circumstances that justify the issuance of employment authorization.
Prominent community leader and immigrant rights advocate, Ajay Bhutoria, expressed his support for these measures, stating that they are a significant step towards supporting individuals facing challenging situations and ensuring their ability to work lawfully in the United States. He underlined the importance of these measures for individuals and their dependents who find themselves in difficult circumstances such as serious illness or disability, employer disputes or retaliation, significant harm, or disruptions to employment.
Bhutoria further highlighted that the non-exhaustive list of qualifying circumstances provided by USCIS offers individuals an opportunity to present evidence supporting their case. “Individuals with approved immigrant visa petitions in oversubscribed categories or chargeability areas may submit evidence like school or higher education enrollment records, mortgage records, or long-term lease records to demonstrate compelling circumstances,” he said.
The Foundation of India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), an organisation advocating for laid-off H1-B workers, expressed its appreciation for USCIS taking this step, acknowledging that it would benefit a large number of Indian IT professionals. Khanderao Kand from FIIDS expressed pride in the sustained advocacy efforts of more than six months, which are now yielding considerations and adjustments by USCIS. This development is seen as a positive move towards addressing the challenges faced by Indian professionals waiting for green cards and providing them with opportunities to work and contribute to the United States. “I really feel proud that a sustained advocacy for more than six months started reflecting in considerations and adjustments by USCIS,” said Kand.
(With PTI inputs)