When you think of the phrase “Independence Day,” naturally you think of July 4th and wonderful images of BBQs, apple pie and fireworks come to mind. August 15th is Indian Independence Day, which is relatively recent, having begun in 1947. It certainly feels recent to me since my father was ten years old at the time. Of course he later moved to Britain, where I was born, making me a British Citizen, therefore setting me up for a lifetime of combined pride and self-loathing. In the U.S., Indian Independence Day on August 15th is celebrated in numerous cities, and with a number of parades and parties.
India has come a long way. Just shy of one quarter of the world’s population and the world’s largest democracy, it is amazing to see the progress over the last decade. Modern cities and developments have sprung up all over India. The economy is booming and India is creating many different items for export. Perhaps its largest and most valuable export though, is people, in particular, highly educated people.
There is no doubt that in any immigration discussion, the uniqueness of the Indian immigrant is – or at least should be – raised. I have been practicing immigration law in the U.S. for around ten years, and in those ten years there has been little to no actual progress in the immigration debate, and certainly with immigration laws. We are stuck with the same antiquated laws which do not incorporate modern technology, or modern times.
One example: the visa bulletin. It is an announcement of green card timing eligibility and rather like a number at the deli counter, certain countries have a backlog, India and China being the most affected. The “deli counter number” for Indian nationals who have an advanced degree at the moment is October 2008, and for a professional worker whose job does not require an advanced degree, June 2004. Which means that if a company sponsors a software developer, where the position requires a bachelor’s degree and a year or two of experience, they may be waiting, if they are lucky, for eleven or twelve years. More likely, more than that. Unless you own your company, how many of us stay at the same job for over a decade these days?
If the U.S. is serious about attracting talent, this has to change.
There are many factors to this backlog: the sheer number of people applying in total, combined with the huge number of Indians applying. Only Congress can vote to raise the numbers, but that is not the only thing which needs to shift. A common degree from India is the Bachelor of Commerce. A three year degree, which is not considered the equivalent to a U.S. four year degree. The Indian university system was based on the British baccalaureate system, which also has three year degrees. British degrees are frequently accepted as equivalent to the U.S. four year bachelor’s degree. I have heard the justification numerous times that the number of years of high school differ, and the preparation is different. I can’t help but feel frustrated, since certain college degrees in the U.S. are hardly the most academic. I won’t be completely disparaging and point out “basket weaving,” but it is a wonder that someone with a B-Com is not considered to have an equivalent degree, despite often having the academic skills of a much more advanced student.
If it weren’t enough to have to wait years and years for a green card, there is also the matter of the L-1 game. L-1s are intercompany transfers, so if a company in India has a branch or subsidiary in the U.S., they may wish to send an executive or a person with specialized knowledge. The National Foundation for American Policy, NFAP, has studied denial rates. They found that: “The denial rate for L-1B petitions to transfer employees of Indian origin is a remarkable 56 percent for FY 2012 through FY 2014, compared to an average denial rate of 13 percent to transfer employees from all other countries during the same period. Only 4 percent of Canadian nationals were denied L-1B petitions, compared to 56 percent of Indian nationals, between FY 2012 and FY 2014.”
I am unsure why more people are not outraged by this statistic. Why aren’t immigration attorneys, certainly business or corporate immigration attorneys, beating down USCIS’s door and asking for accountability?
In 2013 there was an AILA/American Immigration Council trip to India and a number of us traveled to the three consulates in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. It was fascinating to see the work done there and to be able to ask questions of the Section Chiefs. We certainly hit a wall when asking about administrative processing and anything which they deemed might be related to fraud, which I found very frustrating. The ability to resolve this seems like an uphill struggle.
If tomorrow, Indian Independence Day crosses your mind, due to this blog post, or a parade, or announcement that you hear, I hope you spare a thought for all the Indian skilled professionals and academics who work hard to contribute to the U.S. economy and growth, and how the current laws and policies stunt what could be an even larger impact due to a lack of visas, green cards and fairness in the process.
“Seven social sins: politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
Written by Neena Dutta, Member, AILA Board of Governors