Work visa processing delays are a human rights issue: expert

US visa

Author says Covid-19 has worsened the plight of H-1B visa holders.

The Biden administration should hire more foreign workers, once the current green card backlog issue is addressed.

Inordinate delay in extending visas and work permits, which has led to a number of H-4 and L-2 visa holders losing their jobs, is a human rights issue and should be addressed, a prominent expert said.

“Insurmountable visa processing delays are a human rights issue that absolutely can and should be addressed,” Christopher J. L. Cunningham, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, told the American Bazaar.

Pooja Vijaykumar, a researcher at the University of Limerick in Ireland, said the plight of employment-based visa holders has exacerbated due to Covid-19 pandemic. Vijaykumar collaborated with Cunningham on a report on the impact of Green Card backlogs in 2019.

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“H-1B holders who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 are moving back to their home country, and more importantly, physicians on H-1B visa as front-line workers are enduring a lot of stress given that their families are at risk of being deported if he/she dies of Covid-19,” she told the American Bazaar. “Overall, we could have retained these high skilled immigrants and their families if the backlog situation were resolved by previous Presidential administrations.”

READ MORE: The American Bazaar’s H-1B archive

The 2019 study by Cunningham and Vijaykumar, “An Indentured Servant: Impact of Green Card Waiting Time on the Life of Highly Skilled Indian Immigrants in US,” revealed that, 93.4% of the study participants were “very concerned about the estimated green card waiting time in the US.” It found that 70% were “seriously thinking at the present time about emigrating to a more visa-friendly country.”

The study, which was released as former President Donald Trump was putting newer stringent checks and policies on legal immigration in place, also estimated the “potential direct costs” to US organizations “due to the green card waiting time to be in the range of $19,303,200,000 – $54,261,724,160.”

“Our study is more relevant today given that the Covid-19 has only exacerbated the stress and burnout in these individuals and the green card backlog issue still remains unresolved,” said Vijaykumar.

READ: A timeline and history of H-4 EAD (January 27, 2021)

“The current immigration system is broken, and I hope that this issue is taken up seriously,” she added. “In the future, the Biden administration has plans to hire more foreign workers, which is great, but this should be only done once the current green card backlog issue is addressed.”

An immigration reform bill unveiled by the Biden administration last month increases employment-based visas from 140,000 to 170,000.

The bill, which doesn’t address visa processing delays, increases country and other types of visa caps on immigrants, opening new avenues for Indian nationals who have to wait for decades for green cards.

Cunningham praised some of the measures in the bill.

“I am encouraged that the proposed policy and process changes I am hearing about are promising and seem to be in-line with actions that should help to address some of the challenges and issues we highlighted in our report,” he said. “It is important to note here also that we were focused on a very visible and often highly valued (for education and skills) immigrant group. The impact of this immigrant group on the growth of American businesses is well-known, particularly in the healthcare and technology sectors.”

Pointing out that “the challenges we observed among members of this group are likely even greater and more difficult for immigrants from other countries and cultures that are perhaps not as well-regarded within American society at this time,” he said that “There is clearly much more work to be done before we understand and can work to support legal immigration in a way that protects the health, well-being, and dignity of all.”

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