The current system is delaying my freedom to enhance my career in this country, where I have spent almost half of my life.
By Sriram Raghunathan
Allow me to introduce myself. I go by “Sri” and have been a legal resident in the United States for the past 18 years — since the fall of 2000.
I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science from India, my country of birth, and came here to pursue my master’s degree at California State University-Chico. I ended up doing another master’s degree in IT management from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
After doing business consulting for a while, I got tired of traveling and settled down on a full time job in Massachusetts, where I wanted to start a family and put my roots down.
After switching two jobs, I decided in 2008 that I will not move again till I get my green card. I reached out to my previous employers to secure employment verification letters to apply for my labor certification and I140 applications, the two requirements for green card application.
My employer was required to post how much I was making on a public notice board, which was embarrassing to begin with. They also had to review 30 odd resumes for my job posting and narrow it down to five candidates. Of these, three candidates needed visa sponsorship and two did not have the adequate technical skills that I had.
READ MORE: Stuck in limbo for 13 years as Green Card stays backlogged (September 22, 2013)
My manager at that time had to document this on an official letter head to quantify that they had done their due diligence and made sure that I was not replacing any American worker. That has always been the right way to do things, and I am all for that!
I applied in a category called EB-3, which has a lower threshold in education and experience than EB-1 and EB-2. An EB-3 applicant requires only a bachelor’s degree, with a minimum of three years’ experience.
Looking back, I recall that I filed in this category because of my low wage. The EB2 category has higher USCIS pay guidelines. My wage was so low that USCIS actually came back stipulating a higher minimum wage for my employment category, which my employer had to honor right off the bat.
Upon completing the IT management degree, I decided to switch jobs to have a better career opportunity as a business leader. I encountered some problems at work that had to be resolved in 90 days to avoid termination.
READ MORE: Waiting for the Wait to End: The human face of Indian immigrants caught in the Green Card backlog (December 4, 2018)
I decided to be more proactive at this stage. My wife was pursuing her master’s degree at Northeastern University and we had a kid in daycare and a car payment. We were a single-income family, as my wife was on H4 dependent visa at that time.
My previous company had initiated my labor certification process but I had already left before they could file my second labor.
I decided to join a company run by a high school buddy as a contractor, where I would look for my own assignments and he would take care of my payroll and immigration. He did that and I am grateful to him for the help.
I started traveling for work to the client site where I encountered many personal problems being away from my family. My client recognized this and, based on my performance, made me a remote contributor so I can have a better work-life balance. I am forever indebted to my then-manager for the arrangement. I got a chance to spend quality time with my parents who were visiting me from India at that time and my son, who was two years old. We would play every day in the evening and I frequently took him to the swimming pool where he had a lot of fun swimming under water. I will forever cherish these moments I spent with him!
READ MORE: The unstable life of Indians on H-1B visa in the US due to visa renewal policy (October 28, 2016)
I received a three-year H-1B visa extension in December 2014, valid till the end of 2017. I had my labor certification for the third time. I also had I140 approved and was waiting in line for my visa number to be available. My previous November 2009 priority date was ported over on EB2 category this time. It was done during the September 2015 visa bulletin.
I reached out to my attorney who asked me to get a medical clearance certificate required by USCIS. My wife and I had very little immunization records, as they were all in India. We ended up taking all the required immunization shots all over again for the sake of “going with the flow” of the process.
I had all our documentation in order to send to the attorney when my friend called me and said that USCIS had released a follow-up bulletin that superseded the previous bulletin that had incorrectly listed the priority date as January 2011. According to the new bulletin, the date was May 2009.
READ MORE: High-skilled Indian workers, DALCA kids, rally on Capitol Hill to clear green card backlog (June 15, 2018)
That meant I was ineligible to file for my adjustment of status (AOS) at this time. I told myself that it was a matter of another six months for my visa number to be current.
Fast forward to December 2019: Almost four years later, I am still waiting for my turn.
I ended up switching employers again, pursuing a better career opportunity. I restarted my labor certification for the fourth time and got my I140 approved in less than a week of applying. I am back in line waiting for my visa number to be available on EB2 with a ported over priority date of November 2009.
I had to file for another visa extension through my current employer, travel for work 500 miles away from home to my client location in North Carolina, rent an apartment and travel back every other weekend. I do Facetime or Amazon video chat with my family everyday just to catch up with them when they need me the most. I even tell bedtime stories via Alexa to put my son to sleep.
Down the street from where I live in the Research Triangle Park plenty of jobs are available. But I am not able to apply because they don’t hire H-1B candidates because of the risk involved in retaining the employees if their visa extensions get rejected.
READ MORE: Reverse brain drain – the experience of three couples who moved back to India from the US (January 20, 2014)
We own a brand new home and drive brand new cars, a BMW and a Toyota. Our son goes to a charter school and does exceptionally well in taekwondo. We are tax-paying and law abiding people who never expect a handout or entitlements from the government in the form of food stamps, healthcare or unemployment benefits. All we want to do is to advance our careers in a country where I have spent almost half of my life. I don’t even have a driver’s license, or voter registration card back in India.
Yes, immigration, like driving is a privilege — not a right. But the current system is delaying our freedom to enhance our careers. As a first generation immigrant in this country, all we want as part of our American Dream is the ability to provide a better future for our kid.
The reason I and hundreds of thousands of Indians like me are in a limbo is the 7 percent country cap on employment-based green cards. Every country irrespective of its size gets a fixed percentage of work-based green cards. Because hundreds of thousands of Indians that are in this country on H-1B visas have applied for green card, there is a huge back log.
READ MORE: In focus: H4 visa
The country limit for green card for India is 7,000 per year. This figure, based on immigration laws that are more than 30 years old, are very outdated and does not reflect the current needs of the technology sector. Blindly increasing this number does not make sense either, as due diligence needs to be performed to ensure that the job rightfully goes to the most skilled candidate and that no American is displaced by a foreign worker because of cheaper labor.
As President Trump said, other developed countries look at our immigration laws and laugh at us. The problem with this country is the broad, fat brush with which immigration of all kinds — skilled immigration, illegal immigration, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, chain immigration, and birthright citizenship — are all looked at from a single lens.
Politicians want to resolve all immigration issues under one “golden bipartisan ticket,” which is practically impossible to achieve. Immigration needs to be broken into smaller bipartisan fragments, and each bit and piece can be passed in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, which is one big reason why every effort to reform immigration has failed in the past three decades.
I am not affiliated with any politician, or political party. But the fact that, based off today’s green card backlogs, a person applying for legal residency would take 150 years, if the applicant happens to be from India, just sounds hideous and laughable.
READ MORE: The American Bazaar’s H-1B archive
My cousin once said, “Those jobs are for Americans only, man!” I replied: “I am as American as it gets buddy!” So close, yet so far, and my wait continues.
Thanks for hearing me out. I hope many reading this will be in worse immigration situations than I am in (or maybe better). But for the sake of every high skilled immigrant in this country legally residing and paying taxes without expecting any handouts or entitlements from this country we now call ours — as a “resident alien” — I really hope we get some relief in the form of comprehensive immigration reform that is broken into smaller achievable chunks with skilled immigration. We offer the best return on investment to this country to reduce its burgeoning deficit, which is more than $20 trillion now.