NEW YORK (TIP): Indians chasing the American dream have reason to cheer. In 2012, as many as 35,472 Indians with H- 1B visas got green cards, up from 6,000 in 2011 – accounting for more than 50% of all green cards issued to H-1B holders for all countries in the year.
The data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) comes in the wake of a new Bill that focuses on attracting knowledge workers to the US by providing them citizenship. The common impression is that the US is increasingly trying to keep foreigners out with new immigration walls. But that’s only a partial truth; it pertains to less skilled overseas workers. In reality, the US is also trying to attract the best brains from around the world and among the biggest beneficiaries are talented Indians.
A green card allows a person to live and work anywhere in America, and is a path to citizenship. An H-1B visaholder is beholden to the employer who hired him or her, and can be deported unless the holder can find another H-1B sponsor. Most Indians who got green cards in 2012 came from the EB-2 category, which includes professionals with advanced degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Clearly, the US wants to retain its competitive edge and accelerate R&D. “They need people with specialized skills who can substantially contribute to the knowledge economy. The large base of Indians with advanced degrees and domain expertise is highly sought after and given preferential treatment,” said Rakesh Prabhu, partner, immigration practice, ALMT Legal. The number of green cards a country gets in a year cannot exceed 7% of the total available. The limit primarily restricts those born in India, China, Mexico and the Philippines, given the large numbers of applicants from these countries.
However, most of the rest of the world does not come anywhere close to this quota. The unused numbers in a year from other countries are often given to countries that have long queues. In 2012, India appears to have benefited. “The US visa office seeks to use the available visa numbers by the time the fiscal year ends, at the end of September. They don’t like to waste numbers. So there could be a new surge (Indians becoming eligible for green cards) in August 2013 and in subsequent months,” said Cyrus D Mehta, managing attorney and founder of the New York-based law firm Cyrus D Mehta & Associates.
Now, there’s a serious effort to remove country quotas, which has a broad agreement among Republicans and Democrats. The Comprehensive Immigration Bill, which is before the Senate, seeks to remove the country caps to attract the best minds to the US. The political consensus right now is that knowledge workers with permanent residency are valuable to the economy. “If Congress removes country quotas, it should help Indian citizens. However, it will affect the rest of the world adversely,” said Denyse Sabagh, partner in the Philadelphia-headquartered law firm Duane Morris.