Is the U.S. still a land of opportunity for Indian nationals?Posted on Monday, October 31, 2011
In a recent report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), Executive Director Stuart Anderson announced that an Indian national sponsored today for an EB-3 employment-based visa could potentially wait 70 years to achieve permanent resident status. This astounding figure was obtained by dividing the estimated number of Indians waiting in the EB-3 queue (210,000) by the average number of Indians granted visas in this preference category each year (2,869).
The situation is somewhat better for individuals with advanced degrees (or a B.A./B.S. with 5 years of progressive experience) who have been approved in the EB-2 category. According to NFAP, most Indian nationals currently in the EB-2 queue have already waited more than 4 years to file for permanent residence, and depending on their priority dates, they are likely to wait another 1-5 years.
While waiting to immigrate, an individual is often in the U.S. already and working for their sponsoring employer in a temporary position. Accepting a promotion or changing jobs may jeopardize their eligibility for permanent residence. They face the continual risk of a layoff or company closure, and their spouses generally cannot work.
NFAP argues that placing so many Indian professionals "on hold" for decades (and discouraging others from seeking to immigrate at all) has a negative effect on the U.S. economy. At American universities, 1/2-2/3 of graduates in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) are foreign nationals. Failure to retain these talented people weakens the competitiveness of U.S. companies and acts as a damper on job, productivity and wage growth.
The children of highly educated immigrants are proving to be the leaders of the next generation of scientists and engineers. 70% of the 40 finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search had parents who immigrated to America. 86/ of this group started on H-1B visas and were later sponsored for their permanent residence by their employers. More than half of this group studied at American colleges and universities before going to work for a U.S. company.
Waits are long for applicants of all nationalities in the EB-3 category. One important reason: the economy has nearly tripled since 1990, while the 140,000 annual cap on employment-based visas has remained unchanged. Many corporations, professional associations and organizations like NFAP are pushing for an additional 50,000 annual visas for applicants with a valid job offer and a U.S. graduate degree in a STEM discipline. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, committee members showed bipartisan support for the idea of bolstering U.S. competitiveness, but were reluctant to increase the number of openings for highly-qualified immigrant workers.
Today, immigration law favors diversity among immigrant workers rather than merit. Because no single country can use more than 7% of the total annual visa allotment, individuals from India and China must wait far longer than all other applicants for employment-based permanent residence. Even if they qualify for the EB-2 category, they will still wait years to adjust their status while applicants from other countries are able to file immediately.
Recently, the "Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act" was introduced in the House. It would eliminate the per-country limit on employment-based visas by 2015 after a 3-year phase-in period. NFAP believes that this move would shorten the waits of Indian nationals in the EB-3 category by 9-10 years while adding 1-7 years to the waiting time of applicants from other countries. In the EB-2 category, Indians would wait up to 4 years less to become permanent residents, while most other applicants would wait a total of 1-2 years.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) believes that the bill will reach the House floor and be passed by a majority vote. Passage is seen as less likely in the Senate. But even if this legislation becomes law, an Indian engineer approved today in the EB-3 category would still face a wait of 60+ years before filing for permanent residence. The news would be better for those in EB-2, whose waits would be shortened to 1-2 years along with the rest of the world.
With both reforms in place - an elimination of the per-country limits and 50,000 additional STEM visas - the EB-2 and EB-3 categories would become current for all applicants within 3 and 10 years respectively. This is the larger transformation that is needed for the U.S. to take advantage of the wealth of talent that India has brought to its door. But as long as unemployment remains high, AILA believes that legislators are unlikely to open that door any wider.