Welcome Back! N.J. Senator helps H-1B visa holder return to U.S.

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United States Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, helped H-1B visa holder Ashu Mahajan return from India and called for an end to the massive green card backlog

Sen. Bob Menendez with the Mahajan family, from left Ashu Mahajan, Neha Mahajan and their children, at the May 24, 2021 press conference. Photo courtesy Sen. Menendez’ Office

Nine-year old Aishi of New Jersey, has not stopped jumping up and down from the time her father, Ashu Mahajan, 42, came home May 22, 2021, after a harrowing month in India where he saw his father pass away from Covid on April 21, and performed the last rites virtually alone.

His older daughter Sanaa, 15, went through a tough time, not only mourning her beloved grandfather, but also terrified if she would see her father and when, and what would happen to her freshman year in high school.

In the midst of a harrowing and devastating rise in coronavirus deaths in India, particularly in Delhi, Ashu Mahajan tried every waking moment to find a time slot to meet U.S. Consulate staff, while his wife Neha, founder of Skilled Immigrants in America, worked the phones stateside. American consulates in India were shut as Covid ravaged that country, and his earliest appointment was going to be a year later in February 2022.

Going Mainstream

“You were the first one who published my story (May 2, 2021) on News India Times and that was shared on multiple social platforms,” Neha Mahajan told Desi Talk. Soon, mainstream media began calling and her story took wings, eventually getting Sen. Menendez’ attention. The plight of thousands of H-1B visa holders stuck in India, and the massive green card backlog in the U.S. also got highlighted nationally as a result.

It was just a matter of days before Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’ office took up the case and Ashu Mahajan was back on American soil under an ‘expedited’ appointment rule based on having a minor child … Aishi.

Mahajan was able to get an expedited appointed also because he was already cleared for travel having got both his Covid vaccinations before he left for India. He still had to get a negative Covid test result before being able to board the flight to Newark International.

In a press conference May 24, 2021, Sen. Menendez welcomed Ashu Mahajan back to America and highlighted the issues facing legal immigrants and high skilled workers who were stuck in a dysfunctional immigration system, one that he is trying correct though the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 he introduced on February 18.

With the Mahajan family flanking him at the podium, Sen. Menendez praised his staff for being instrumental in reuniting the Indian family, and noted that other New Jersey constituents in similar situations were being “actively” assisted as the coronavirus outbreak worsens in India.

Ashu Mahajan at the Airport

“You traveled across the globe to be with (your father) in the middle of a pandemic. That says something about what kind of son you are,” Menendez told Ashu Mahajan. That he might have had to wait till 2022 to see his family again was “unthinkable” the Senator said.

“Having the family separated for so long would not only be a tremendous hardship—it would jeopardize the very job that makes Ashu’s H1-B status and his family’s life here in America possible,” said Sen. Menendez.  “I’m incredibly proud of my staff in New Jersey and in Washington with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for working together to bring Mr. Mahajan home.  They reached out to the State Department.  They made clear all that was at stake in this case, and they successfully secured an expedited appointment at our embassy in New Delhi so that he could get that passport stamp and board a plane back to America.”

Overhaul Immigration

Senator Menendez went on to highlight the plight of H-1B visa holders hundreds of thousands of whom have been waiting for years, even more than a decade, for their green cards. The Mahajans applied for permanent residence in 2012! He said in recent weeks he had been contacted by others and his office was handling at least 10 other cases similar to that of Ashu Mahajan.

“This family followed all the rules,” Sen. Menendez emphasized. If they had gotten their green card earlier, the family would not have faced what they did today, he added. He called for “bold” and “inclusive” reform. “It’s time that we modernize that system,” he said, adding “No one should have to wait a decade,” to get permanent residency.

The Senator also praised the Indian community for its contributions to the U.S. economy and society. “I am deeply moved by the private efforts of the Indian American community,” during the Covid crisis in the U.S., the Senator said, “They are an integral part of our community.”

He also said he is closely watching what the Biden administration is doing in terms of helping India overcome the Covid crisis by giving help, and noted how India had stepped forward to help the U.S. when it was hit hard by the pandemic. “Now it is our turn to help India.”

“The time has come for real and lasting immigration reform,” which is “bold and inclusive.” Menendez said, one that reflects American values, grows the economy, and allows immigrants to achieve their potential. “Our immigration system was broken long before Donald Trump. And it will remain so … if Congress does not move forward…. The system is riddled with inefficiencies.”

The Mahajans

“Yesterday was the first time I slept after a long time,” Neha Mahajan said at the press conference. It was a terrible choice to make between helping family in crisis in India, or keeping one’s visa status here, she noted. “Ours is just one story. There are thousands stuck in India,” she said, thanking Sen. Menendez and his staff for stepping in.

Ashu Mahajan told Desi Talk he spoke with his father daily before he tested positive for Covid following his domestic help being diagnosed with the virus. In April when his father got sick, beds were still available in Delhi hospitals and the family admitted him into one.

But his father was already in the ICU when Ashu reached Delhi and not awake to see his son. When all the rituals were done, he realized he could not go back to his family. “I checked daily on the computer for an appointment and finally saw one for February 2, 2022. His heart sank, but he put his name down for it.

But as soon as Sen. Menendez’ office stepped it, things changed.

“It is such a relief to have him back,” Neha Mahajan told Desi Talk. “I am worried however for so many families she knows that are separated.

“People are stuck for no fault of their own. For people like us in our early 40s, we have given our youth to America, we have given so much to this country. We deserve fairness. It’s a bigger issue than just us,” Neha asserted.

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