Obama’s immigration reform: How it benefits Indians in the US
Posted on November 24, 2014
On Thursday night, when US president Barack Obama took recourse to executive action to push through a much anticipated immigration reform plan, there were sighs of relief heard in many pockets in the US that are home to Indian students and skilled workers. However, there is some reading of the fine print that many of them will need to do before they can uncork the champagne.
Unsurprisingly, the maximum benefits from US immigration reforms as far as Indians are concerned address the highly skilled workers — many of them on H1B and L1 work permits and waiting in long green card queues.
There are, in fact, thousands of skilled Indians in the US whose petitions (employment-based 2 & 3 categories) for green cards were filed many years back and have become subject to annual number caps and country-wise caps. “Thousands of Indians are waiting in the US in green card queues.
Most of them are on H1B extensions [beyond six years]. President Obama has directed the US Citizenshipand Immigration Services and department of state to work things out so that visa numbers that remain unused from the total number cap are reallocated to those waiting in the line. How these unused numbers are to be allocated will become clear after the regulations are issued,” says Mumbai immigration lawyer Poorvi Chothani.
For Indian students on F1 visas who are graduating from US institutions of higher education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) streams, there’s reason to rejoice.
The optional practical training (OPT) period — when they can finish their courses and look for a job — is being extended from 24 months to 36 months. This policy initiative is likely to further enable education as a pathway for attracting and retaining future skilled migrants to America.
However, steps are also likely to be taken by the US department of homeland security (DHS) to bring educational institutions, students and their employers under greater scrutiny to prevent the misuse of the OPT facility.
“While the definition of STEM streams may be expanded to include additional programmes and the period extended, this will come with tighter process control over students, institutions and employers.
Earlier government reports had raised concerns about the potential misuse of the OPT programme, which are likely to be plugged,” says Dr Rahul Choudaha, chief knowledge officer at World Education Services, a New York-based non-profit specializing in international higher education.
Cheer for Some
But it’s not just skilled Indian immigrants who will get a leg up. Manhattan-based immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta says that a large number of Indians who live in the shadows in the US will be among the biggest beneficiaries. “Many Indians have an unlawful status in the US and they will benefit.
They need to have been continuously present in the US before January 1, 2010, and must be parents of US citizens or lawful permanent residents of any age. Another group of Indians which will benefit is those who came to the US before the age of 16, before January 1, 2010,” adds Mehta.
The DHS is finalising new rules to give certain H1B spouses (on H4 visas) employment authorisation to work in the US, a step that has been welcomed by thousands of Indian women.
“President Obama has paved the way to provide employment authorisation for spouses of H1B visa holders. Other issues that will significantly help Indians in America and technology companies are the addressing of the ambiguity in L1 visa adjudications and potentially reducing the lead times to obtain green cards and providing more flexibility to change employers during the arduous green card process,” says Anuj Sarin, director, product management at INSZoom, a company offering IT solutions for immigration processes.
Meghna Damani, a filmmaker in the US, who has been an activist on the issue of employment rights for spouses of skilled immigrants, believes that while the step to provide employment benefits to some H4 visas holders is welcome, many more who are nothighly skilled themselves still remain deprived of their rights.
“There are still thousands who will not be able to work on the dependent visa. Time and again the spouses and children of highly skilled workers are denied the right to employment and any form of income when they have come to the US legally. This is a human rights issue and not only a policy issue.”