NEW YORK – There are at least 300,000 children on an H-4 visa who may be forced to leave the United States if they don’t succeed in changing their immigration status by the age of 21, like a F-1 student visa or an H-1B visa, or get permanent residency.
These children are known as “H4 Dreamers” who came to the U.S. under the dependence of their parents who are mostly on H-1B visas, but when they turn 21, they are bound to lose everything if they do not change their visa status and will have to go back to India.
Today, some of these “H4 dreamers” are in their pre-teens and teens and fear their future, but a few have already been sent back to India, like Himani Punja.
In a MyStatesman article written by her father Ramesh Punja back in October, Himani had no choice but to go back to India after spending nearly her whole entire life here.
“Juvenile memories — such as her lemonade stands and attending prom her senior year — are some of the beautiful things she had to leave behind. We still cannot digest the reality of the situation. As a parent, it is bearable to see your child leave home voluntarily for college or their career — but not when they’re forced to leave through the result of unfair laws. She initially went back to India alone last year with a big smile and positive attitude. Since then, life has been a struggle to live for her: assimilating to a new culture, undergoing chronic illnesses due to her environment in India, and trying to figure out her life in general,” Punja wrote in his article.
“She says it feels like someone has spontaneously taken everything away, including her identity. On top of that, her college education in the U.S. was abruptly stopped because she was unable to obtain a student visa; there is a law where gaps between a dependent visa and the college semester start date should not exceed 30 days. Unfortunately, she was five days over the limit. She has since applied to another university in India, where she will spend another four years studying. She hadn’t been able to see us for a year but later opted for a visa to “visit” a nation that is practically her home. Due to the laws, it is difficult for us to even visit her and even our own parents. We haven’t been to India in nearly eight years,” he continues.
What’s the reason for this?
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are 140,000 employment-based green cards available each year but only 7 percent of them are available each year for those from India.
In short, there is a backlog of green cards which has lasted for decades and many “H4 dreamers” are stuck in this vicious cycle as they have already applied for a green card years ago when they came to this country with their parents, but their H-1B parents themselves have been waiting on theirs.
A National Foundation for American Policy 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.
A majority of the skilled workers who are seeking EB-3 green cards and are currently on H-1B visas come from India and according to figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 2.1 million H-1B visas went to Indian nationals over the last 10 years.
As of 2016, there are 1.5 million high skilled immigrants of Indian origin waiting in line for a green card and every year the U.S. issues one million green cards, of which only 80,000 are EB-2 and EB-3, employment based visas.
With a 7 percent country cap, only about 5,000 green cards can be distributed for each country in a year, regardless of that country’s size and contribution to the American economy and since India has a massive amount of green card applicants, it suffers a huge backlog.
The Skilled Immigrants in America (SIIA), a non-profit organization which has 150,000 members, has already requested that the country cap on green cards be removed immediately.
In a Columbus Dispatch article, 12-year-old Shrivatsan, or Shri mentioned that he dreams to “work part time in high school, go to college and work for NASA one day.”
“When I heard about this, I had mixed emotions, because I really wanted to stay here and grow up with my friends. I thought I could stay here as long as I wanted, and I could work for NASA when I grow up, and I could go to college without paying an entire admission fee,” Shri told the Columbus Dispatch.
But without a green card, he can’t work and will still have to pay for college out of his pocket because he is not eligible for student loans and when it comes to starting his career, Shri will most likely have to apply for the same visa his dad holds, an H-1B, but that too has its own backlog.
The sad part is that Shri’s parents as well as other H4 dreamers’ parents, have followed the law while living in the U.S., paying their taxes and following legal instruction regarding their visas, all along.
“We just want to follow the law and get green cards. We are just asking for fairness,” Ashwin, another skilled worker who is also a local advocate for skilled workers, told the Columbus Dispatch.
Ashwin himself has a 7-year-old boy who may fall into the same circumstance like Shri and Himani in the future.
If not a green card then obtaining an F-1 student visa after H4 dreamers graduate high school, is one way in which they would be allowed to stay in the country and gain a college education in the U.S. but they would still have to pay more than what they could be paying if on a green card and would still have to apply for an H-1B visa upon graduation.
According to a Bloomberg BNA article, another option is applying for an E-2 visa as they are analogous because the visa can be renewed every five years with no limit on how long the visa holder can stay.
“But that can only happen if the Recognizing America’s Children Act or the H.R. 1468, a Republican-backed alternative to the more bipartisan Dream Act, gets passed as the bill would provide lawful status to the children of E-2 treaty investor visas, who essentially are in the same position as the children of H-1B workers,” immigration attorney Greg Siskind of Siskind Susser told Bloomberg BNA.
“It’s unfair that somebody born in Monaco gets to the front of the line and somebody born in India has to go to the back of the line and eliminating per-country caps is a good place to start, but we need some kind of mechanism for our green card system to expand,” Siskind added.
Harshit Chatur, a finance director in Houston, told Bloomberg BNA that “we accepted as a norm” that it would take five or 10 years to get a green card, but never realized it could be 70 years or even 300 years” as most Indians didn’t realize until a few years ago that being in the green card backlog will actually become a major problem.
Chatur added that he feels for the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children “because it’s not the kids’ fault,” but is also upset about the lack of legislative proposals that could be put into place to help these dependent children of H-1B workers, “why can’t they see the pain of legal parents?”
Unfortunately, H4 dreamers aren’t protected under the DREAM Act or the DACA.
The H.R.392 bill is being introduced in Congress for the fourth time and has never made it to the floor and though it has close to 300 bipartisan cosponsors, it hasn’t found any numbers in the senate because it seems to be too small compared to other legislative actions that need to be taken care of first.
The SIIA met about 150 Congress members on Capitol Hill between October 23 and 24, to present their case.
“I am very scared and I fail to understand why I will not be allowed an admission into the college I aspire for”, Saana Mahajan, a sixth grader from New Jersey asked one lawmaker as the main question in all 20 children’s minds was “why are we, kids of legal taxpaying immigrants getting ignored by Congress?”
Many lawmakers did seem to be unaware of these problems and showed their support for H-1B visa holders and their H4 dreamer children.
The U.S. has given only 14 percent of its green cards to skilled workers whereas other countries give as much as 50 percent and many believe that the percentage should increase in the U.S. as H-1B immigrants have always been adding value to the economy.
Another proposal that has been brought up is the issue of unused green card numbers, which should be allowed a methodical roll over or recaptured the same year, but that has happened only twice in the last 30 years.
Currently 500,000 green cards are wasted every year and if the number is regulated, then it can eliminate the backlog.
“SIIA recommends that immediate family members should be excluded from the count and to temporarily increase the employment based green cards for a brief 2-3 years period. This will release the backlog to a great extent,” said Chatur.
“SIIA propagates that simple lifting of the country cap can do a magic easing the backlog. The country cap is part of immigration law passed 50 years ago. Today in an entirely changed economic and social scenario, this provision cannot see a relevant light,” he added.
Although the SIIA did receive positive feedback from their trip to Capitol Hill in October, they are doubtful that anything will be done.