Indian physicians languish in the US as wait time for Green Card increase

Capitol Hill. Photo: Reuters.

NEW YORK – The vexatious issue of Illegal immigration from the Southern borders is now a serious problem for the United States. It has the feel of a lost battle, with no winning or deterrence strategy in place.

As the tsunami-like surge continues unabated, with over 100,000 illegals, including tens of thousands of children, crossing over just in the month of April, immigration facilities and local communities are swamped, overwhelmed, resources drained. Locals feel exploited by foreigners; cheated by the government.

Welcome and generosity for the cause of these illegal immigrants has waned even among Democrats. Talk of embracing immigrants is now a toxic subject, with political repercussions.

In the spate of anti-immigration rhetoric, it’s easy enough to forget the plight of legal immigrants who are striving for a Green Card.

New, tough rules and regulations by the Trump administration have made life difficult for workers on work visas, to get extensions and permanent residency. There is tremendous trepidation on traveling overseas, on such a visa.

Animosity has grown for foreigners, especially for workers in the tech arena, with Americans gradually being swayed by President Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda. To employ Americans. Not foreigners.

The saving grace has been the state of the strong economy, which continues to grow, create new jobs. There’s paucity of skilled workers in many industries. Yet, highly educated and skilled legal residents from India on a work visa, including physicians and engineers, fear that their plight is being snowballed into the entire gamut of immigration, including the surge in illegals.

That their voice for relief from visa backlogs which stretches to over a mind boggling 100 years, is being drowned in the general clamor to restrict immigration. They despair that nobody is listening to their case anymore.

There might be succor in sight for some of these legal immigrants, though.

Republican Senators, Mike Lee, from Utah, and Kevin Cramer, from North Dakota, this week again took up the cudgels for legal immigrants.

The duo published an opinion column in The Hill, highlighting the queasy plight of some of the highly skilled workers from India, who continue to do fine work despite the debilitating quality of life situation they are subjected to.

Lee and Cramer made a case for legislation they sponsored earlier this year, ‘The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act’, which may soon come up for consideration before Congress. It seeks to increase the visa cap for countries, which will hugely benefit Indian nationals in the US sponsored for a Green Card. The wait time to get permanent residency would be drastically reduced.

Lee and Cramer took up the case of Ashish Patel, who first came to Utah legally in 2005 on a temporary high-skilled work visa, and since then, got married, had two children, but despite his Green Card application being approved in 2011, is still waiting for it to be issued.

“If Mr. Patel had immigrated from any country in the world other than India he would already have his Green Card today,” the lawmakers pointed out.

They also cited the case of Dr. Sri Obulareddy, an oncologist working just outside Dickinson, N.D., who came to the US in 2006. She moved to North Dakota because the area is experiencing a shortage of specialized physicians, and “her impact on the community has been invaluable.”

They wrote that recently when Obulareddy tried to return from a trip to India, approval for her visa was delayed for six weeks, forcing her patients to travel as far as 100 miles as they scrambled to find a temporary physician.

“The pain this caused her patients would never have happened if she hadn’t been subjected an arbitrary cap based on her country of origin and had already received her Green Card,” they wrote.

“The status quo is simply unfair to the high-skilled immigrants left in limbo. The system needs reform,” they added.

The bill, which Lee and Cramer introduced, along with other Senators across the aisle, including Kamala Harris, from California, in February, seeks to ensure that high-skilled immigrants are not vulnerable to exploitation. Can stay in the US and continue to contribute to the economy.

It seeks to increase the per-country caps for family-sponsored green cards from 7 percent to 15 percent. Without adding any new Green Cards, S. 386 hopes to create a “first-come, first-served” system that alleviates the backlogs and allows Green Cards to be awarded more efficiently.

Voice of America put out a story too this week, which highlighted similar plight of physicians from India, languishing because of visa backlogs, and new rules. It threatens to force them to relocate.

Dr. Tarkeshwar Tiwary, a 45-year-old pulmonologist at a hospital in central Pennsylvania, is one of 300,000-plus Indian immigrants awaiting legal permanent residency under an employment-based visa.

“The American dream is no longer alive,” Tiwary lamented to VOA, adding, “I feel really demeaned.”

Tiwary is among nearly 50,000 licensed Indian physicians working in the United States. But the wait for a Green Card is becoming too long to bear, he said.

Tiwary fears for the future of his two India-born, now teenage children, who may be forced to self-deport when they turn 21, and he still doesn’t have a Green Card. At that point his children could lose their dependent visa status; be forced to apply for another visa, as a student or worker, to be eligible to stay on in the US. Or to go back to the country they were born in.

VOA also highlighted the plight of Dr. Jagdeep Kaur, an addiction psychiatrist and mother of two US-born children, ages 3 and 5, who’s frustrated with her visa restrictions, hampering her ability to grow the scope of her practice and contribute research to the state’s opioid epidemic.

The story pointed out that adding to Indian doctors’ dilemmas is the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rules to end the H-4 employment authorization program, which allows certain spouses of H-1B visa workers to gain employment. When it does stop, it would affect some 90,000 spouses – mostly Indian women with advanced degrees.

Geetha Potineni, a network security administrator with master’s degrees in computer science and biotechnology, is one of them. Her husband, Dr. Venkat Konanki – a 9-year pediatrician at Keystone Health in Pennsylvania – says the prospect of his wife retaining the ability to work is as important as his own eventual Green Card prospects, reported VOA.

The couple have been thinking of moving back to India, with their two US-born daughters, ages 7 and 9.

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



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