Indian immigrants seek green cards with roses

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : It was yet another manifestation of ‘Gandhigiri’. Waving American flags and carrying bouquets of roses, about 1,000 legal immigrant doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals, largely from India and China, held a rally at the US Capitol to demand a swifter and surer track to green cards.

Support TwoCircles

The demonstrators marched silently from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Tuesday, then stood while one member sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and cheered a folk singer’s pointed ditty: “We’re your Microsoft, your eBay, your Google.”

Skilled-worker visa holders expressed anger and frustration with long bureaucratic delays and strict numerical limits on employer-based green cards or permanent residency.

They are asking Congress to change laws that limit the number of green cards granted each year and set different quotas for each country, creating a backlog of skilled workers waiting for residency.

Their families, they said, are stuck in limbo and that their professional ambitions have been stymied by an uncertain future.

Many held up placards that emphasised their professional contributions to American society. “A green card delay keeps the doctor away,” read one.

“We come here to work in the land of the free, but the best and the brightest of us are finding themselves prisoners of statutory walls,” said Vivek Gupta, 39, a neuro-radiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and a former medical resident at Yale University.

“I have received awards for my teaching and skills, yet I am forbidden to get federal research grants, and I have to renew my visa year after year after year.”

Legal-immigrant groups had set their hopes on comprehensive immigration reform proposals that circulated in Congress in the spring, but those measures collapsed in June amid a wave of public opposition to provisions that would have offered a path to legalisation to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the US.

“Why should our problems be held hostage to the issue of illegal immigrants?” asked Aman Kapoor, 35, a computer programmer from Florida who heads a national advocacy group called Immigration Voice. “We are law-abiding, taxpaying future Americans, and Congress is turning us into underachievers.”

Jim McDermott, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, told the protesters that he will continue pressing for immigration reform and said that they should also put pressure on presidential candidates to address the issue.

Most skilled visas, valid for up to six years, are granted to highly educated immigrants working in medicine, engineering, technology and administrative fields. Applicants must be sponsored by a US employer.

The collapse of immigration reform dashed hopes that Congress would double the number of new skilled-worker visas, now limited to 65,000 a year.

In July, skilled immigrants received a second blow when the government, which had announced in June that it would accept thousands of new work-based residency applications, abruptly reversed course and said it would reject them all because the annual quota of 140,000 had been filled.

The Indians responded with a bit of ‘Gandhigiri’ by sending thousands of flowers to USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez in the second week of July and won an additional period to file green card petitions. The decision unleashed a deluge of about 300,000 applications.

The term ‘Gandhigiri’ and the novel method of protest inspired by Mahatma Gandhi were popularised by hit Bollywood film “Lage Raho Munna Bhai”.

Tuesday’s event highlighted a new alliance between the two largest groups of skilled-worker visa holders: those from India and China as the rally participants sought to differentiate themselves from illegal immigrants.

According to the US Department of Labour, of the 267,000 skilled-worker visas approved in 2005, Indians received the most (118,500), followed by the Chinese (24,500).