Green Card holders rushing to becoming US citizens, for several reasons


US passport

Sujeet Rajan photo-2NEW YORK: For long-time residents of the United States, the idea of giving up Indian citizenship is unpalatable, although reconciled to their children on a US passport. Recent flurry of action by the Trump administration, Congress, and some state governments – like shooting darts at a target from several directions, however, may see remaining Green Card holders who are eligible for the Pledge of Allegiance, scurrying to become American.

It’s not just the Travel Ban on seven Muslim-majority countries ordered by President Donald Trump and some fake messages that proliferated on social media warning against traveling overseas at the risk of being deported, that’s made Green Card holders feel vulnerable for their permanent resident status.

Despite the reversal of the Travel Ban by courts, many feel restrictions for foreigners, even for those on a Green Card, are upcoming. The Travel Ban may be reinstated by the Supreme Court. Trump may yet prevail. Leaks of some proposed executive actions by Trump suggest he intends to deport non-citizens whose only crime may have been to rely upon welfare, including free lunches for children in public schools, and food stamps.

The welfare system help to sustain newcomers to the US, and impoverished residents. Trump and key members have talked about moving to a skill-based system for immigration, on the lines of the Canada system.

However, the proposed measure to deport non-criminal background foreigners, even those on a Green Card, whose only crime is to rely upon societal benefits, would severely impact hundreds of thousands of low-skilled and less educated Green Card holders.

Even for educated, skilled masses on a Green Card, there is ample concern it’s getting a bit choppy out there: Republicans have emphasized on reducing the size of the government. Reserve federal jobs only for citizens. Now, some state governments seem to be hardening their stance towards Green Card holders.

Colorado has moved a state measure to bar non-citizens, including Green Card holders, from jobs in the state police force. Georgia wants a clear distinction between citizens and foreigners: they will add ‘Non-citizen’ to driver’s license of Green Card holders. Apparently, the move emanates from worries of voter fraud.

Green Card holders in the IT profession are jittery. The aggressive rhetoric by Trump of hiring Americans first, demonize H-1B visa workers, has hit home hard. Most IT workers with a foreign passport feel alienated, stigmatized, just like other work visa holders, despite having spent decades in the US. Worried they would be on the chopping block for layoffs. Squirm awkwardly when there’s a group discussion on jobs.

The saving grace: the economy is chugging along smoothly. Hiring is up, unemployment down. Attrition is spiraling. Plenty of jobs are vacant because of paucity of skilled workers. That could all turn in a jiffy, if there’s a downturn. If hiring stalls.

The killer move, however, is by two conservative members of Congress, who have unveiled a bill to curtail legal immigration by half, end sponsorship of family members for a Green Card by US citizens.

A drastic new immigration bill – some may call it draconian for its lack of empathy – by Republican Senators Tom Cotton from Arkansas and David Perdue from Georgia, would reduce the number of Green Cards issued annually from 1 million to 500,000, by abolishing the Diversity Visa Lottery and sponsorship for Green Card for siblings and parents of US citizens. Reports said the Trump administration and key White House officials have given their nod for this proposal.

Cotton and Perdue’s plan would allow only spouses and unmarried minor children to get Green Cards.

The Diversity Visa Lottery allots about 50,000 visas per year for citizens of countries that traditionally have low rates of immigration to the United States. India is not one of the countries eligible. Recipients could be a rickshaw puller and his family from Bangladesh. The bill also seeks to limit refugees to 50,000 annually.

The number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States under the bill — named the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act — would plummet by 40 percent in the first year and by 50 percent over a decade, according to analysis by Cotton’s aides.

There is opposition to the bill though, including from veteran Republican Senator John McCain.

If passed by Congress, and signed into law, the bill would eliminate Green Card for adult parents of US citizens; adult brothers and sisters of US citizens; unmarried adult sons and daughters of US citizens; married adult sons and daughters of US citizens; and unmarried adult sons and daughters of legal permanent residents.

The bill, as an afterthought, allows US citizens to bring in elderly parents in need of care-taking to the United States, on a temporary visa. There’s a caveat though: the parents are not permitted to work, cannot access public benefits, and must be guaranteed support and health insurance by their sponsoring children.

Imagine if this law were to be place decades ago, perhaps when the immigration floodgates opened in 1965: in all likelihood the Gujarati community, in particular, would not have been able to thrive in the business arena, including starting myriad franchises in the hotel and motel, food and beverages industry. They have thrived by sponsoring relatives to help in family-run businesses. The newcomers did the same for others.

Cotton and Perdue’s proposed bill is short-sighted. It would not only adversely impact businesses, jobs and the economy, it would deeply cut into the finances of the Department of Homeland Security.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire, called the legislation “senseless” and a “job killer.”

“This legislation sends a terrible message to the rest of the world and is unquestionably a job killer,” she said. “As a nation of immigrants, this bill runs counter to our values.”

Cotton and Perdue must be lauded, however, for their move to do away with the meaningless Diversity Visa Lottery. The annual 50,000 visas from that category should instead be pumped into the stagnant EB-3 and EB-2 visa categories, where skilled Green Card hopefuls have to wait for decades to become a permanent resident.

Democrat California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has proposed to do away with the country caps on Green Card for the EB-3 and EB-2 visa categories, in a separate bill she has sponsored.

US would benefit greatly if some parts of Cotton and Perdue’s bill are reconciled with that of Lofgren’s: abolish the Diversity Visa Lottery and help the beleaguered Green Card aspirants in the EB-2 and EB-3 visa categories who have spent years and decades working and carving a life for themselves in the US.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)