Lobby for H4 visa holders, make X visas flexible, help farm workers emigrate.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: If ever there was a time for India to lobby on Capitol Hill for the sake of NRIs in the United States, to help get the best deal for giant tech companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro – which are heavily reliant upon the US for their business, are the face of modern India, provide hope for thousands of new graduates for good jobs – and tweak their own laws with bipartisan effort in Parliament for the benefit of NRIs, the time is now.
The proposed comprehensive immigration law in the US, which passed the Senate, is likely to get a new avatar, or different avatars in the form of piecemeal legislation in the House, this October. It will then have to be reconciled with the Senate version, before it goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. If a set of piecemeal legislation does pass a vote in the House this fall, then an immigration law, whether it is comprehensive or not, has a good chance to come into effect.
As debate intensifies on what should remain in the bill, be left out, what should be trimmed, or increased, the important point for the Diaspora here, for future immigrants – skilled as well as unskilled, is that the debate has suddenly shifted from illegal immigration, from giving amnesty to the 11 million undocumented immigrants, to fixing the broken immigration system for legal immigrants as well.
Talk still lingers on ‘Dreamers’ – the children of illegal immigrants – and giving residency for illegals – many say that the outcome of the bill will finally depend on that – but the focus has shifted also in equal measure to problems of legal immigrants. There is good reasoning behind it: legal immigrants are the ones who will actually give a bigger fillip to the economy, become voters quicker, turn entrepreneurs, job creators.
The House plans to introduce a separate bill for increasing visas, for issues regarding skilled workers, and those in line for Green Cards, this October, declared the influential GOP leader, Rep. Paul Ryan, who was also the party’s Vice Presidential nominee in the last elections. It has quashed to a certain extent the notion that the GOP was planning to squash the bill altogether in the House, commit political hara-kiri in the process.
On Monday, the White House released a 20-page report which pointed to the benefits of the Senate version of the immigration bill for farmers in the country, how not having new rules for workers in place would be detrimental for recruitment, harm farmers’ operations, force many to grow produce across the border. Currently, anywhere from 50 percent to 60 percent of the more than one million farm workers in the U.S. are here illegally.
According to the report, in 2013, net farm income is forecast to total $128.2 billion, which would be the highest level since 1973 after adjusting for inflation. Much of this growth is due to the demand for American agricultural exports: the value of agricultural exports has steadily risen in recent years and is projected to reach $135.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2013, which would also establish a new record.
According to an economic analysis by the Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), an expanded H-2A visa program – like the one found in the W-3 and W-4 provisions in the bipartisan Senate bill – would raise GDP by approximately $2 billion in 2014 and $9.79 billion in 2045.
According to the Senate version of the bill, farm workers would be able to apply for ‘Blue cards’ and then later, green cards in five years. It would allow up to 337,000 workers from other countries to come to the U.S. to do farm work for three years. A House agriculture-jobs bill this past April, however, has a provision for only temporary visas, not green cards.
There is, however, broad bipartisan consensus for more workers in the farm sector, just like most Democrats and Republicans see eye to eye on the need for more skilled workers in the IT arena, and the need for more highly educated immigrants to be welcome to America in the future.
The Indian government can do a lot to help the NRIs in the US, gain their goodwill, but there is only a limited time for them to try do so: if the House plans to act in October on piecemeal legislation, then there are only two months left to do so.
Here are three things that the Indian government and Parliament can do, apart from lobbying hard to make sure Indian tech companies are not discriminated against, forced to pay more to get workers across, be subject to wage discrimination policies, and hurt their bottom-line:
- Lobby hard on Capitol Hill to get H4 visa holders from India – spouses of H1B visa workers – to be eligible for EAD cards (Employment Authorization Cards). The benefits of this is manifold for the US and India. At present, the H4 visa holders are not eligible to work in the country. They may have engineering or doctoral degrees, but at best can only be volunteer workers in their community, not get paid for services. It’s a controversial law that needs to be condemned by India as well as changed in the US. In the fiscal 2012-2013, remittances to India from NRIs touched $70 billion. That figure will go up if H4 visa holders are allowed to work, as they would fall outside the purview of the limit on H1B visas, and have no restrictions on what work they could take up. According to the Senate version of the immigration bill, H4 Visa holders would be eligible to work, but upon the condition that it’s on a reciprocal basis, if the country from whey are from does the same for US citizens.
- So, India, which does not at present allow spouses of American workers to either study – the US at least allows that – or work – must change their rule regarding X visas, those who visit India either as visitors, workers, or spouses of workers. The point is how many spouses of Americans who are working in India, would even try to get a job there? Your guess is as good as mine.But it’s a different thing altogether in the US: hundreds of thousands of H4 visa holders if allowed to work, would benefit not only themselves, their family, the community they live in, and the country, but also help countries like India economically.The Indian Parliament needs to make a public statement on their plans to change the X visa rule, so that Capitol Hill takes note, give relief to H4 visa holders.
- And thirdly, India needs to pounce on this opportunity that the US may create for more farm workers to emigrate, the more than 300,000 workers a year that they plan to have: the question is why shouldn’t farm workers from Punjab, Haryana, and other places in India take advantage of it, and not just workers from South America? If more farm workers from India make their presence in the US, they are sure to bring modern changes to their own rural communities when they visit India, implement what they see in the US, back in India too. It may be wishful thinking, but there is no reason why state governments should not encourage farming communities to have workers apply for these new visas if they are put into place, create awareness about it.
Opportunities like the comprehensive immigration reform happen once in decades; India needs to make sure that they can do all they can to help NRIs and future immigrants, and benefit in that process too.
(Sujeet Rajan is Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar).
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