Republican Hindu Coalition founder Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar has claimed responsibility for President Donald Trump’s surprising Jan. 11 tweet, in which the president indicated his support for continuing the H-1B program and assured a pathway to citizenship for H-1B workers.
“H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.,” tweeted Trump, misspelling the acronym for the program which allows highly-skilled workers from abroad to work temporarily in the U.S. Indians are the largest benefactors of the program.
Critics of the visa claim it displaces American workers. In the advent of the Trump administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has cracked down on the program, issuing more Requests For Evidence to those attempting to renew their status. The definition of highly-skilled workers has been greatly narrowed to eliminate many specialty occupations.
Thus, Trump’s tweet came as a surprise to Indian Americans and the business community, which largely supports expanding the program.
In an interview shortly after the president issued his tweet, Kumar told India-West he and his children, Vikram and Manasvi, have been lobbying the president for months to get his support for expanding the program and for eliminating the per-country caps for employment-based green cards, which have left 1.5 million H-1B workers stuck in a queue of up to 70 years before getting a green card.
The per-country cap allows no country to get more than 7 percent of all employment-based green cards. Fewer than 10,000 employment-based green cards are issued to Indian Americans each year, leaving the large majority in an interminable gridlock.
The Kumars first brought up the issue with the president at a roundtable conference last May at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, which is owned by Trump. “The president spent 15 minutes on this issue during the 25-minute conference,” said Kumar.
“The president was absolutely shocked to hear of the backlog on green cards,” Kumar told India-West, adding that his family also briefed the president on “DALCA” children, the dependents of H-1B holders who age out of their status once they turn 18 and must return to the home country or get an international student visa with a much-higher tuition rate.
“Three hundred families are leaving the U.S. each day because of anxieties over the H-1B system and frustration over not being able to get a green card,” said Kumar. “The president does support merit-based immigration and does not want to lose smart people who belong in the U.S.,” he said, noting several bills expected to emerge during this congressional session which seek to eliminate the per-country cap.
Meanwhile, Kumar has advocated for a solution that would solve the government shutdown, which has emerged after a stalemate on funding for Trump’s much-vaunted U.S.-Mexico border wall. He has proposed an “expedite fee” for those who want to jump ahead in the green card queue, which, he hypothesized, would create a fund of $29 billion over the next decade to fully fund the wall.
“We believe this is a win-win for everyone: for Democrats who do not want to fund a wall, and for Republicans who support border security,” Kumar told India-West.
New York-based immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta told India-West: “It is my belief that the president had no idea what he was tweeting about.” He noted that the president cannot do anything administratively to clear the green card backlog or to end per-country caps, as both issues are in the purview of Congress.
In the fracas over the border wall, which has resulted in the longest government shutdown in history, Mehta suggested the president might have been attempting to offer an olive branch indicating he supports some types of immigration.
In a Jan. 11 blog post, Mehta noted that Trump could nevertheless act on the issue in several ways. “Trump could immediately order USCIS director Lee Cissna to adjudicate H-1B visas in the way that Congress intended, with the goal of approving rather than denying the visa, bringing about much needed simplicity and certainty to both employers and H-1B visa holders.”
Mehta noted that employers used to be able to file a simple H-1B application seldom exceeding a page or two. Now, employers must file lengthy briefs to support an application.
Trump could also order a change in the way H-1B dependents are counted, said Mehta, noting in his blog: “There is no explicit authorization for derivative family members to be counted separately under either the employment-based or family-based preference visas in the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
Eliminating the counting of dependents in per-country caps would “dramatically decrease, and ultimately eliminate the backlogs, thus providing a pathway for citizenship to H-1B visa holders,” said Mehta.
IANS adds: Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of the temporary H-1B visas; 76 percent went to professionals from India last year, according to government statistics.
Caught in a controversy over his plans to stop illegal immigration that has been made to appear he is anti-immigrant, Trump appeared to be sending a message that he supports legal immigrants and opposes only those coming in illegally.
Limiting H-1B visas has been a matter of concern for India and New Delhi has taken it up with Washington as a trade-related issue.
Major U.S. companies have warned that the limiting of H-1B visas and the long waits for permanent residence seriously affect their ability to get and retain talented staff.
Since it was only a tweet, there were no details about how he would go about making the changes.
An immigration expert expressed skepticism about Trump's show of concern for H-1B visa-holders.
"Trump's tweet is a distraction from the fact that the administration's H-1B policies and its actions more broadly are actually making everything more difficult for legal immigrants across the board," said Doug Rand, the president of Boundless Immigration, a technology company helping people navigate the immigration process.
One of the immediate concerns for H-1B visa-holders is the Trump administration's plan to end permission for their spouses – who are on H-4 visas – to work, which had been granted by the administration of former President Barack Obama.
Another is the path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship because of the current minimum wait of 10 years for Indian professionals to get their green cards.