Suhas Khamgaonkar boarded a flight to India last week, “as her husband died while in line for Green Card,” her attorney tells The American Bazaar.
As fall begins to bring cool air and Americans start preparing for the arrival of Thanksgiving Day, when families will come together to celebrate and cherish togetherness, Suhas Khamgaonkar is spending days all by herself in India, far away from her only daughter, Riti, who is in the United States.
Khamgaonkar, wife of a highly qualified chemical engineer who arrived in the US on an H-1B visa, boarded the flight to Mumbai on October 17. The reason: Avinash Khamgaonkar, Suhas’ husband, died in 2015, while waiting for his Green Card. As a result, as a spouse on a dependent H4 visa, Suhas Khamgaonkar lost her right to be in the US.
The story of Khamgaonkar, who had been a resident of New Jersey since 2005, is by no means unique. While she was forced to move back to India, families of tens of thousands of Indian nationals currently in the United States on H-1B visa and stuck in the Green Card backlog are facing an uncertain future.
“I have clients from India with whom I’ve been working for 15 years and have been waiting in the backlog now over a decade,” said Portland, Oregon,-based immigration attorney Brent Renison, who represents Khamgaonkar. “Meanwhile, I have other clients who are being approved after only a little over a year. The difference? Place of birth. This is not only insidious discrimination based on nationality, but it is supremely unjust.”
Explaining the emotional, professional and financial toll it takes on families waiting in line, Renison, who has been practicing immigration law for more than two decades, said, “These families are torn apart when their kids, who came as young children, age out and have to find their own way in the terrible system.”
The lawyer said the Khamgaonkar family suffered immensely because of the Green Card backlog. “My client Suhas Khamgaonkar came here with her husband, Avinash, and daughter Riti, when Riti was just 11 years old,” Renison said. “Now she has aged out and had to get her own work visa, which relied upon her graduating in engineering from university and luckily being picked up in the lottery for an H-1B. But not everyone is so lucky to even have that possibility.”
He said that after Avinash’s death, while waiting in line, Suhas was forced to leave the country for India. “She is being forced out because the law doesn’t permit her to continue to stay here and wait, even while the law permits her to take over her dead husband’s petition,” the lawyer said. “I worked on the law that allows this, but no one knew back in 2009 that the backlog would become so long.”
Renison added, “[Suhas] will not be able to come back and even visit her daughter, her only surviving nuclear family member, for several years, while she awaits her August 2010 priority date to become current. Right now, 2009 priority dates are being processed at a very slow rate — each month the cut-off date moves forward just about 5 days. That means a 1-year difference in priority date equals a 4- or 5-year wait longer. So, she might be waiting a total of 5 or 6 years now, unable to come to the US in the meantime, and she’s already waited nearly a decade.”
As Avinash died waiting for his priority date to become current, Suhas, was able to get the immigrant petition transferred to her under a 2009 law. “I helped get passed for Surviving Relative Consideration,” Renison said. “But she has been forced out of the country now because there is no provision for survivors to continue waiting in the United States.”
Riti, in the meantime, lost her eligibility for a Green Card with the family, due to her aging out, at age 21. This family has been torn apart by the long waits.
If Avinash had been born in another country, they would have become permanent residents years ago, and both Suhas and Riti would have become US citizens by now.
Currently, Indian Green Card applicants are campaigning for the passage of a Senate bill that would remove the country-specific quota. The US House of Representatives passed the “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act,” or H.R. 1044, in July. But its companion bill S. 386 has been stuck in the Senate, with a number of senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky blocking it.
Renison and other immigration attorneys say that the current system is unfair for Indian Green Card applicants, for whom the long wait often comes at a great cost to their personal, professional and financial stability, as it happened with the Khamgaonkar family.
Arguing that the “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act would level the playing field, Renison said, “Once S.386 passes, we’ll have everyone on a level playing field, and we’ll discover that we do not allow enough immigrants to immigrate. My hope is that lawmakers will finally see the truth of this when everyone is in the same boat.”
Trump talks about changes in H-1B Visa, including a possible citizenship (January 11, 2019)
Trump’s tweet on H-1B and path to citizenship evokes lukewarm response (January 12, 2019)