Kansas Congressman Tackles Green Card Backlog

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By Laura D. Francis

There’s a growing Indian population in Kansas, many of whom are stuck in a lengthy backlog waiting to get their green cards.

That includes Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer working on an H-1B high-skill guestworker visa who was killed in February in a suspected hate crime. “In the case of his widow, her status was tied to his and she was facing losing her good status in the country because her husband was murdered,” Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) told Bloomberg BNA.

Kuchibhotla and his wife, Sunayana Dumala, were on temporary visas while waiting for green cards—Dumala’s was tied to her husband’s work visa. They would’ve already received those green cards if not for the backlog, Yoder said.

Yoder helped Dumala obtain temporary work authorization so she could stay in the U.S. for the time being. But he’s also actively working on the underlying issue.

Would Eliminate Per-Country Caps

In July, Yoder took over lead sponsorship of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act ( H.R. 392), a bill that would tackle a large part of what’s causing those backlogs.

Under current law, no more than 7 percent of the 140,000 employment-based green cards available each year can go to immigrants from any one country—what’s known as per-country caps. But the vast majority of skilled workers on H-1B specialty occupation visas, most of whom are seeking green cards, hail from India.

More than 2.1 million H-1B visas went to Indian nationals over the last 10 years, according to figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That means Indian nationals must wait years or even decades for their green cards to become available.

One report estimates that Indians could wait as many as 70 years for a green card to become available in the EB-3 category, which covers skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers.

H.R. 392 would eliminate those per-country caps, and it’s backed by groups representing immigrants in the backlog, including Immigration Voice and Skilled Immigrants in America.

Parallels to DACA

Yoder hoped to get the bill attached to whatever deal Congress works out to provide legal status to immigrants in the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. DACA has been a frequent topic of discussion among lawmakers since the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement that it was ending the program. DACA provides deportation and work permits to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

“There are some interesting parallels” between the DACA discussion and the per-country caps that H.R. 392 addresses, Yoder said. The children of Indian immigrants stuck in the green card backlog also came to the U.S. at a young age, but face a loss of legal immigration status when they turn 21, he said.

If Congress were to address the status of immigrants who came illegally as children, but not those who came legally, “that, to me, would be a big mistake,” Yoder said. There are some 700,000 immigrants “trapped” on temporary visas while waiting upwards of 70 years for a green card, he said. “That injustice is much greater than the 800,000 DACA children that we’re talking about,” he said.

Yoder doesn’t just want to see something added to the Dream Act ( H.R. 3440) or the Recognizing America’s Children Act ( H.R. 1468), both of which would provide legal status to roughly the same population covered by DACA. Instead, the caps that have created the backlog need to be addressed, he said.

Monopoly by Indians

But the bill would flip around the current scenario, allowing “employment green card allocations to be monopolized by Indian immigrants, making it patently unfair to other prospective immigrants from around the world,” David Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 3.

“This is another example of special interest politics. In this case, Indian tech firms who have long exploited our H-1B system, are screaming for more visas,” said Ray, whose organization supports lower immigration levels.

“The answer is not to remove the per country limits, but rather to pivot our nation to a more modern, merit-based system of immigration like that of Canada and Australia,” he said. “In that scenario, selected immigrants would arrive in the U.S. with their spouses and minor children, and extended family members would have no expectation of immigration benefits down the road.”

In addition, the bill would lead to additional applications for family-based green cards because of petitions filed by those who get employment-based green cards sooner, Ray said. In that regard, the bill “is not in the best interest of U.S. workers and not in the best interest of the United States,” he said.

But that’s not the view of the majority of the House. H.R. 392 has garnered 272 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. That makes it “one of the most co-sponsored bills in Congress,” Yoder said.

And House leadership either has lent a “friendly ear” or is “really understanding of the injustice” of per-country caps, he said. That includes Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), temporary Majority Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.)—who filled in while Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) recovered from gunshot wounds—and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

“The president’s statement on DACA has opened a window for Congress to have to deal with immigration reform,” Yoder said. “There’s been a logjam here” when it comes to immigration legislation, but “that may now be widening,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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