Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who are on Covid frontline highlight their plight.
About 20,000 immigrants in green-card backlog are currently serving as frontline healthcare workers. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, these professionals — among them, doctors, nurses and associated healthcare workers — have been putting their lives in danger to save American lives.
While their contributions during the ongoing crisis have been phenomenal, many doctors, scientists and tech workers say the country remains oblivious of the fact that thousands of these hardworking professionals are patiently waiting for their green cards. The wait is especially long for Indian nationals, for whom it could take many decades.
Now some of these front line workers from India are in Washington, DC, calling attention to their plight. Starting Monday, April 12, they are protesting at the Capitol Hill against the long wait that they are subjected to. Some are going to protest on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.
“High-skilled immigrant workers are living in the US legally, paying taxes, contributing immensely to the economy and are helping fight the Covid-19 pandemic on the frontlines,” Dr. Raj Karnatak, an intensive care unit doctor who is among the protesters, told the American Bazaar. “But the misery of high-skilled immigrants in the green card backlog has been largely ignored by the US congress.”
Last May, Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer introduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act for recapturing green cards that were approved by Congress but unused in past years, allowing thousands of medical professionals to serve permanently in the US. But that bill and a companion Senate bill did not become legislation.
Many of the protesting doctors maintain that the pandemic has been brutal to the frontline workers and their families, with several losing lives. They say that the fact that they have no right to participate in any kind of democratic process, despite contributing to the country’s healthcare and economy, is humiliating.
Dr. Pranav Singh, a pulmonary and critical care physician said frontline healthcare workers in green card backlog first protested in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2021, against “the country cap based green card discrimination.”
READ: Why Indian doctors are hit hardest by US Green Card backlog? (January 24, 2020)
The protesters say that they are coming out now to tell the world how they have been shortchanged into a life of perpetual indentured servitude.
“Each of us has a story,” said Dr. Karnatak. “We are here from all over the country, asking for justice that has precluded us for decades now. Most of us are from India. We trained in the US and took oath as physicians to serve the sick and needy. Most of us are serving in rural and underserved areas.”
Many Indian doctors are stuck in green card backlog because of a US law that puts a 7 percent cap per country for employment based green cards. Critics want to do away with the law saying that it is archaic.
While India is a land of more than 1.3 billion people, the number of green cards Indian nationals gets is the same as a country as small as Iceland, which has a population of 365,000. Most Indian high-skilled workers are brought into the US on H-1B visas. Since there is no country cap on the H-1B visa, and due to the sheer number of Indian applicants, they form 50 percent of all H-1B holders. Now, the discrepancy in the number of H-1B hired from India and the small number of green cards allotted to Indians creates a bottleneck and leads to an inhumane green card backlog.
READ: Indian American health workers protest green card backlog (March 18, 2021)
Healthcare workers are now highlighting the treatment meted out to them, contrasting it with nationals of other countries in their profession. Immigrant healthcare workers from other countries who start working at the same time get their green cards within months, or in a year but the high skilled Indian immigrants currently have an estimated wait time of several decades.
Two years ago, the American College of Physicians, the largest medical specialty organization in the United States and the second largest physician group in the country, wrote a letter to then-Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services L. Francis Cissna requesting him to clear the backlog.
The letter, dated April 2, 2019, expressed “concern about the significant H-1B visa backlog for highly skilled employees, including international medical graduates (IMGs), foreign trained physicians who are actively practicing in the U.S., due to the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
It added, “We urge the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to clear the backlog for conversion from H1-B visas to permanent resident status for physicians.”
The letter, written by the organization’s president Ana María López, continued: “ACP is concerned about the impact of the green card backlog on IMGs. Many of these physicians have come to the United States on H-1B visas, and find themselves stuck in a decades-long backlog waiting for employment-based green cards due to the per-country cap. These physicians serve an integral role in the delivery of healthcare in the United States. They contribute essential care to underserved populations in the United States. In addition, many patients express greater comfort and higher levels of patient satisfaction which improves adherence to care with care from physicians ‘who look like them’. This element of diversity to the physician workforce is helpful and necessary to the healthcare for an increasingly diverse patient population. IMGs provide healthcare for underserved populations in the United States and are often more willing than their U.S. medical graduate (USMG) counterparts to practice in remote, rural areas.”