The trials and travails of workers on visas, in a broken immigration system.
By Jawaher K*
WASHINGTON, DC: I came to the United State in June 2000 on an H-1B visa with a so-called body-shopping firm. Within two weeks, I started working. When my first project was over with the company, I moved to another company, which, at that stage was a startup. It later became one of the leading brands in the US.
During this time, I tried to apply for a Green Card. The first company had promised to process the Green Card, but it did not. The second company said it will process within a year. The company, being a startup, wasn’t aware of the Green Card application process.
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And by the time its HR department familiarized itself with the process, three years went by. My Green Card processing was started in 2004. I had a master’s degree in computer science and five years’ experience, which would enable me to apply through the EB2 category. But I ended up applying through the EB3 category, as I tried in vain to convince my company that I was EB 2-eligible. Then once we started the process, there was a round of layoffs in the company, and my application process was halted. The company could not convince the Labor Department about the necessity of making a foreign employee a permanent resident at the time of retrenching.
After several attempts and discussions, HR started to collect more information from me, and eventually got approval to start EB2 Green Card process, in March 2007. But another obstacle came to block hope. The company started a merger process with another company, which eventually took over our company. This process again put my Green Card processing to the back seat. The company merger happened in 2008, and I was told I would now have to re-do the process with the new HR. Then came a shocker: the new HR told me they were not willing to take up my Green Card application process due to other priorities.
The USCIS does not give Green Cards on first-come-first-serve basis, but based on various countries’ quotas. There is no priority based on any other qualification or, an employee’s future value or time the resource is waiting to get this or any individual point/rank basis. Which meant that because of technicalities, my case remained backlogged. In the meantime, even those who came after 2005 have got their Green Card. In fact, people with the same qualification as me, who have less work experience than I have, have got permanent residence.
As of writing this, the priority date of getting a Green Card is 2004. I have been legally working and paying taxes all along. I have paid more than $150,000 in taxes to the US government and the state where I reside. In my own small way, I have contributed to the economy.
Not having a Green Card is a frustrating experience, and costly, too.
Since 2000, I have extended my H-1B visa five times. My company has spent tens of thousands toward the visa cost and other expenses. Additionally, a significant number of man-hours have been spent on these extensions. Once I even had to leave the country for a month as the HR person forgot to extend my visa. The company ended up processing the visa through premium category by paying an additional amount. It also paid for my trip. Many US companies find it hard to navigate through the process. USCIS is changing the process. With myriad amendments, the HR assistant has to update himself or herself about the new rules constantly.
I have also tried to apply through EB2 and EB1, but without much luck. Those that manage a certain number of people are eligible to apply through EB1. I am managing more than 20 people at work. In 2005-2006, I used to manage nearly 80 people. But those eligibilities never worked out due to some unanswered clause in the law.
To apply through EB2, I needed to submit experience letters from my previous employers in India in a specific format. This format changed since I applied back in 2004. USCIS has to change this for various reasons, but victim like me have to keep up to date with these changes and provide appropriate documents based on new rules. It is hard to get many documents as some of the companies won’t keep the record for more than 15 year or some of the companies doesn’t exist anymore or merged with another.
My company has finally started my EB2 process. Because of the slow pace of the Green Card processing, my career growth has stalled. Even though I have been with the company for 12 years, I am still working as a Senior Systems Engineer and also manage human resources. I am not able to take any promotion because it can affect my Green Card process. If I change the title, I have to amend the job description. Because of that my title has not changed.
People who have started after me have got promotions and moved on to better jobs and better positions, because they are either US citizens or already have Green Cards. With my current visa, I cannot even venture to be an entrepreneur.
There are other challenges as well. You cannot travel with peace of mind. Your visa has to be stamped every few years. You are not sure whether your case will be sent for investigation and you will be stuck in India for months. There are also various hassles at the airport, both here in the US and also in India. You cannot go for a vacation outside of the country with family.
At the moment, my H-1B extension is not stamped. I cannot go on business trips. I had a chance to go to Canada and Argentina, but I gave it a pass because of the fear factor.
(*The name was changed to protect the writer’s identity.)
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