NEW YORK – Legal immigrants in America today, those who are not yet permanent residents, likely feel under siege by the Trump administration. They fear the worst. A constant barrage of ‘attacks’ – on their dignity, financial stability and mental peace – continue to issue forth from the Department of Homeland Security, under the guise of new rules and regulations.
This palpable feeling of being hounded by the government, is akin to that of standing knee deep in water on a shore, as one wave after the another laps at feet, sink further into the sand, in danger of being washed away the next moment.
This month itself, the Trump administration has put into motion some rules and regulations likely to have devastating consequences on family fortunes, and quality of life.
It includes announcing the end of work permits for around 100,000 individuals, on an H-4 visa. These are mostly women from India, spouse of an H-1B visa worker. It will likely begin from January, 2019. Existing EAD or work permits will be rescinded. No further work permits will be issued thereafter for a spouse on that visa.
These are women, who for years, despite having graduate, post graduate and doctoral degrees, with excellent English and communication skills, were forced to be ineligible to work in the greatest developed nation on Earth. These women were instead forced to be financially dependent on their spouse. Aspiring to work meant only to be able to do unpaid community service work, or languish at home.
Finally, when they were given a work permit three years ago, by the Obama Administration, they got a job, started businesses, the entire family rejoiced. It was finally worthwhile for these women to live in America, live the American Dream. These families made new investments, bought appliances, furniture, invested in a house.
Now, those dreams will soon become a nightmare.
Those families who were bold enough to take on a new mortgage, on cars and a house, based on a second income in the family, will have to retract sharply, move out perhaps. They will cut down on spending; there will be massive erosion in financial stability and way of life. Worse, some couples will break up, unable to cope up with the friction that will erupt.
Democrat Senators, Kamala Harris, from California, and Kirsten Gillibrand, from New York, dashed off a letter this week to the Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, asking for mercy for these hapless H-4 visa workers.
They wrote: “Rescinding the H-4 rule will result in significant personal hardship to women who will be forced to abandon their professional careers. Preventing women from engaging in employment can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and a loss of self-worth.”
Worse, the person who was the breadwinner in the family, on an H-1B visa, is not secure anymore, and he or she is on tenterhooks whether the dream of getting a Green Card will ever by fulfilled. The wait time for a Green Card is decades away, and a new slew of rules for eligibility mean getting an extension on a work visa is getting harder by the day. Those who go on vacation stay in trepidation, wonder if they will manage to get back into the US or not.
Now, H-1B visa workers have something new to worry about.
Come, October 1, 2018, a new rule will allow the US to deport anybody whose visa extension application or change in status is rejected. These individuals would then get a dreaded NTA, or Notice to Appear, in front of an immigration judge, in a court, which will start their deportation proceedings.
Though, for now, it seems H-1B visa applicants are not the first priority, they could be included in the coming months, as the rate of H-1B visa rejections has significantly increased this year. Also impacted might be H-4 visa holders whose request for H-1B status has been rejected. Immigration officials said priority and focus initially will be on individuals with criminal records, fraud, or national security concerns.
The real game changer in the offing, though, which will sharply affect the immigration numbers overall, is the announcement of application of a rule under which anybody either in the country, or in the process of waiting to emigrate to the US from overseas, be denied a Green Card, and be instead deported, because of being deemed as a ‘public charge’.
The rule is vastly complicated, and is unlikely to be implemented before mid-2019, but what it essentially means is that poor people, immigrants who are not financially stable, or those with prospects of only low-paying jobs in America, are unwelcome, and unlikely to receive a Green Card. This would hugely impact those waiting in line for a Green Card under the Family Reunification categories. For those immigrants already in the country, and who don’t yet have a Green Card, this would mean deportation.
The rules specifically target immigrants who avail of public benefits like food stamps, housing vouchers, or unemployment. No doubt, there have been much abuse in the system, and it was time to regulate it, not allow new immigrants to game the system.
But the government has more drastic measures up its sleeve.
Marketwatch reported that the Department of Homeland Security will also determine who is considered “admissible” to the country, by looking at proof of private health insurance to cover certain medical conditions, and credit histories and credit scores.
A “good” credit score will be “a positive factor as it demonstrates an applicant may be able to support him or herself and any dependents assuming all other financial records are sufficient.”
The proposed rule defines a “good” credit report as “generally near or slightly above the average of US consumers,” the report said. (FICO scores range between 300 and 850, and lenders generally consider one between 670 and 739 to be “good.”)
The Washington Post, in an editorial condemned the new rule in the offing, saying: “The proposed rule is punitive, mean-spirited and self-defeating. This nation has been built with huge contributions from immigrants who arrived with nothing, needed a hand for a while and eventually prospered. The new rule would force legal immigrants to choose between advancing their prospects for a green card, and availing themselves of benefits that would keep them and their children well fed, well sheltered and in good health – a choice the proposal itself acknowledges by saying it may result in “increased rates of poverty and housing instability” and “worse health outcomes.” Even existing green-card holders may balk at using benefits, for fear their future status might be jeopardized.”
Ironically, these measures come at a time when an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week found that 61 percent of Americans believe immigration helps the United States as opposed to hurting, while only 28 percent say it hurts as opposed to helps, reported The Washington Post.
Similarly, Gallup found in the spring that the percentage of Americans saying immigration is a good thing for the country, as opposed to a bad thing, has hit a record high of 75 percent.
The Post noted: “The politics of immigration are complicated. The xenophobic, bigoted attack ads that multiple GOP candidates are running across the country could help juice GOP base turnout. That’s why Trump adviser Stephen Miller badly wants to keep immigration in the headlines as much as possible, which is one reason they keep rolling out policies that compete to outdo each other in folly and cruelty.”
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)