H-4 children, the progeny of H-1B visa holders, are facing an uncertain future as they become adults who are no longer considered immediate family relatives, forcing them to return to their birth country.
H-1B visas are overwhelmingly issued to Indian nationals, who claim about 85 percent of the temporary visas for highly-skilled immigrants issued each year. H-4 visas are issued to the spouse and children under 21 of H-1B visa holders.
H-1B visa holders who have worked in the U.S. for more than six years can then apply for a green card for themselves and their dependent children.
But once a green card petition is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it can take anywhere from 70 to 300 years for a highly-skilled Indian immigrant to be granted a green card, noted the organization Skilled Immigrants In America.
Currently, more than 1.5 million Indian immigrants, who came to the U.S. on employment-based visas, are stuck in the green card logjam, noted SIIA, adding that highly-skilled immigrants from other countries can get green cards in about seven months.
The backlog can be attributed to the country cap mandated by Congress. Indians – the fastest-growing group of immigrants to the U.S. – may face a backlog of up to 82.5 years, noted attorneys Rahul Reddy & Emily Neumann in a blog post.
Each year, people from India are allotted only 7 percent of all green cards issued that year – less than 9,000 each year – explained Reddy and Neumann, advocating for Congress to eliminate the per country cap.
"We are legally here, highly-paid, taxpaying and law-abiding. Were we born in some other country, we would have been U.S. citizens by now. The amount of positive contributions that we make to this country, we just want the Congress to see it and hopefully that will solve this problem," Anirban Ghosh, president of SIIA, told reporters at an Oct. 24 protest in Washington, DC, as reported by the Business Standard.
On Oct. 23 and 24, approximately 100 members went to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress to garner support for HR 392, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, which – in part – would eliminate the per country cap for green cards.
Yoder’s bill – the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act – has bi-partisan support in the House, including from Indian American Reps. Ro Khanna, D-California; Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington; and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois.
“Under the existing per-country percentage caps, large nations like India and China, which account for more than 40 percent of the world’s population, receive the same amount of visas as Greenland, a country that accounts for one-one thousandth of a percent of the world’s population,” said Yoder in a press statement. “With about 95 percent of the employment-based green card applicants already living and working in America on temporary visas, the vast majority of applicants are simply waiting in line to get approved for permanent residence. But high-skilled immigrants from large countries are forced wait two to three times longer under existing law,” he noted.
The green card backlog has tremendous impact on H-4 children, who are no longer considered dependents once they turn 21. “Many of these children came to the U.S. when they were just one or two. With the unlimited number of extensions for H-1B holders once an I-140 application (petition for green card) is approved, these kids have spent their entire childhood in the U.S. but are still not considered permanent residents,” Rashi Bhatnagar, founder of the blog and Facebook form “H4 Visa: A Curse” told India-West.
Once their dependent status expires, H-4 children must return to their country of birth, explained Bhatnagar. “For so many of them, America is the only country they have ever known,” she said.
On the Web page H-4 Dreamers, set up by SIIA, many young Indian immigrants noted that their situation was similar to undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. More than 800,000 children are currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era initiative which the Trump administration ended in September. SIIA has advocated for H-4 children to be protected from having to leave the country via a similar initiative.
Kovidh Vegesna, who moved from India to the U.S. 10 years ago with his parents, poignantly related his story on SIIA’s Web site. Vegesna, a computer science major who is currently in his junior year at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, will turn 21 in two years, making him ineligible to remain in the U.S. unless he is able to change his status.
As an H-4 visa holder, Vegesna wrote that he was unable to obtain a social security number, leaving him ineligible for internships and university-related jobs. “A lot of my friends from high school and college, who are citizens, have been able to make use of all the opportunities which I am unable to get hold of,” wrote Vegesna in a letter to members of Congress, posted to the SIIA Web site.
Megha Ingersal, a pre-med student at the University of Texas in Dallas, wrote that she has lived in the U.S. since the age of eight, but fears that she will have to return to India once she turns 21. “We are also a part of the future of this country,” stated Ingersal, urging members of Congress to support legislation that eliminates the per-country cap.
H-4 children who are no longer considered dependents can apply for an F-1 visa, which would then classify them as an international student for a period of up to five years. F-1 students can then potentially apply for an H-1B visa, but Bhatnagar noted that finding a company willing to sponsor the applicant can be a difficult process (see earlier India-West story here).