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|July 25, 2000|
Fighting for the aliens
Nitish S Rele
The recent H-1B visa bill battle on Capitol Hill has brought the Immigrants Support Network into the limelight.
The two-year-old association boasts a membership of more than 15,000 highly skilled H-1B visa holders in the entire United States.
ISN, whose members come from high technology industries such as software, semiconductor and the Internet, has been meeting with lawmakers in the US Senate and the US House of Representatives and urging them to quickly move on employment-based immigration reform.
The group estimates that over 300,000 high-skilled workers who entered the US on six-year visas are waiting for green cards. Current immigration law allows 140,000 green cards per year in the employment-based category.
At present, there are H-1B visa bills in both the U.S. Senate and US House, which favor giving relief to H-1B workers seeking green cards.
"We are all for the green card provisions in the bills till the system itself is fixed," said S Ganesan, president of ISN Texas. The bills would let H-1B visa holders stay in the US beyond six years and reduce backlogs in green card issuance due to per-country limits.
"There is a huge backlog of green card applications pending with the Labor Department," said Ganesan. "What is disturbing is that Congress raised the H-1B visa fees and spent that money on the US Border Patrol. Right now, there is a move to increase the fees again, which would benefit the Border Patrol once again. We would really like to see amnesty given to people struck in the green card process so that the backlog is cleared."
Another issue that is disturbing ISN is the per-country quotas for employment-based visas. Of the 500,000 people here on H-1B, half are from India and a large portion from China. "So many H-1B visas were wasted because they weren't allocated to certain countries that don't have as many H-1B applicants as, say, India," said Ganesan referring to smaller countries that have a small number of skilled workers.
One of the bills in Congress is looking to raise the cap for allocation of H-1B visas to 200,000 per year.
"But if you keep on increasing H-1B visas, you got to look at increasing the number of green card holders too," Ganesan said, adding, "Most H-1B visa holders came to the US in 1995. Their visas will begin expiring after six years, in 2001. Then employers are going to start losing good skilled workers who may be forced to leave the country."
Ganesan is obviously frustrated to see the lack of moment on part of the Congress.
"Our point is that if you allow skilled workers to come to this country, please take care of them," he said. "We are frustrated and the new H-1B visa holders who come here after us will be even more frustrated."
ISN is also piqued that the issue of illegal immigrants is holding up a Senate bill.
"There was a rally recently in Dallas attended by thousands of illegal immigrants who were demanding amnesty," said Ganesan. "So there is a strong political pressure on lawmakers to pass the bill with the green card provision for illegal immigrants."
Not all of the 140,000 green cards issued every year in the employment-based category are allocated, leaving "unused numbers" each year.
"They are literally wasting the visas because of non-allocation," said Ganesan. About 50,000 unused green cards from 1999 could be allocated to immigrants next year if Congress moved on a proposed bill that needs to be debated.
ISN would also like to see an adjustment of status program for H-1B visa holders. This entails allowing H-1Bs, their spouses and dependents to apply for green cards independent of their employers and outside of per country quota, if they can prove that they have worked in the U.S. on H-1B visas for four years.
"I think the H-1B visa bill to raise the number of visa holders will pass in the Congress," said an optimistic Ganesan.
For more information, check out the group's Web site at www.isn.org.
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