Don’t Forget Skilled Workers Who May Have to Wait For A Few Centuries Before Getting the Green Card

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was so warm and embracing of immigrants when compared to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech a week earlier. These were some of her key remarks on immigration:

We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good-paying job can get one. And we’ll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy. We will not ban a religion. We will work with all Americans and our allies to fight terrorism.

I believe that when we have millions of hardworking immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating and inhumane to kick them out.

Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy and keep families together – and it’s the right thing to do.

Compare these words to Trump’s speech when he only spoke about how immigrants would bring doom and gloom, and thundered that “nearly 180,000 people with criminal records ordered deported from our country are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

All this is so refreshing and noble when Clinton speaks about building a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants, enacting comprehensive immigration reform and not profiling a group of immigrants solely because of their religion. However, not a word was said about skilled immigrants who are already in the pipeline for a green card, but for the fact that their priority dates have not yet become current. Most of these skilled immigrants were born in India and China who are caught in endless backlogs because of a limited supply of green cards each year set by Congress in 1990, and further stymied by annual caps for each country. We hope that Clinton also would include these immigrants in her forthcoming speeches referencing immigration, who have always been legal and are employed in good paying jobs, as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

David Bier at the Cato Institute has emerged as a fresh and new scholarly voice on immigration. It has always been known that an individual who got sponsored by an employer today in the India employment-based third preference (EB-3) would need to wait for about 60 years before he or she got the green card. In Bier’s new report, No One Knows How Long Legal Immigrants Will Have To Wait, he calculates that there are “somewhere between 230,000 and 2 million workers in the India EB-2 and EB-3 backlogs, so they’ll be waiting somewhere between half a century and three and a half centuries. It is entirely possible that many of these workers will be dead before they receive their green cards.” Ironically, if these workers, by some stroke of luck were able to file I-485 applications in the past, such as the class of 2007 adjustment applicants, their children whose age was artificially frozen below 21 under the Child Status Protection Act will be mature adults before they can immigrate with their parents as “derivative children”. On the other hand, if a child’s age could not be frozen through the filing of an adjustment of status application in past years when the priority date may have become current, they will not be able to remain “derivative children” under the CSPA in the unlikely event that their parents may qualify for green cards in their life time and if the children are still alive.

It is readily obvious that Congress needs to infuse a greater supply of green cards each year in the EB categories, and even lift the country limits, as countries like India and China get more adversely impacted than Lithuania or Finland. While it is desirable that Congress fix this problem immediately, we know that Congress is mostly paralyzed at present. However, one should at least be giving these unfortunate skilled workers top priority in any comprehensive immigration deal if Clinton becomes president and can achieve her stated goal to implement reform within the first 100 days of her presidency. Trump, on the other hand, with his America first policy may be more inclined to curb legal immigration rather than fix it, leave alone expanding it.

While different groups of immigrants justly advocate for expanded immigration benefits, it is important that they all remain united. It may be tempting for skilled legal workers to only seek immigration reform for their group as they have been legal while undocumented immigrants broke the law. However, it is not that undocumented people choose to remain undocumented. They too want to become legal but the current immigration system does not provide adequate pathways for different categories of immigrants to become legal and get onto a pathway to permanent residence. And for those who are here legally and on the pathway to permanent residence, they have to wait impossibly for decades, and now Bier shockingly speculates that it may be centuries. Legal skilled workers, many of whom are on H-1B visas, should not be jettisoned because it has become fashionable to think that they away jobs from US workers. They compliment the US workforce, and most have gone through the labor certification process that required their employers to first test the US labor market before proceeding with their green card applications. Once they get green cards, there will be a surge of entrepreneurial talent in the nation’s economic blood stream.  Finally, immigrants already in the US should not pull up the drawbridge behind them and block new H-1B workers. It is important for fresh and talented immigrants to come to the US to achieve their dreams. All we need is an immigration system that has many more pathways to America and is consistent with the needs of the nation in the 21st century.

The present immigration system is broken and can be likened to a terminally ill patient who is suffering from multiple organ failure. The goal for treating such a patient is not just to repair one organ, such as the heart, and leave the other organs in a state of disrepair. This approach will certainly not nurse the patient back to health. All the vital organs in the patient must be revived at the same time. The same holds true for our immigration system, which is like a terminally ill patient. All its components, like body organs, must be repaired. This includes but is not limited to more visas for skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs, faster pathways for loved ones to unite with their family in the US, more opportunities for investors and essential workers, and also a path for the 11 million undocumented to legalize their status. We must also not forget to reform the system for those seeking refuge in America from persecution and other kinds of crimes such as trafficking and sexual violence, and provide more waivers for those who would otherwise be deportable if they have ties with the US or can demonstrate rehabilitation. While Clinton’s message for immigrants is positive and upbeat, she must remember to include all affected immigrant groups, especially legal skilled workers who have been hopelessly waiting for their green cards.

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