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Group: Fix The Broken Green Card System

Friday, 01 September 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- With comprehensive immigration reform focused on the millions of illegal aliens in the country, one energetic advocacy group is hustling to educate lawmakers and the public about the million-plus legal immigrants that have no need of amnesty but only a fair shake at grabbing the American Dream.

Reform bills, amendments, and proposals may be languishing in the brimming too-hard-to-do bin on Capitol Hill until after the 2006 elections, but Aman Kapoor, the founder and head of Immigration Voice roams the halls of Congress, colleagues in trace, with a call for help – fixing a green card system that is broken.

In the current global arena, countries such as India and China provide strong competition in the manufacturing and outsourcing services. The United States has to retain and attract the best and brightest talent that it can find to keep its competitive edge in research and development of innovative technologies, Kapoor told NewsMax in his staccato Indian accent.

"Countries in Europe such as U.K. and Germany, in North America such as Canada, and in the Southern hemisphere, such as Australia, have long since realized this fact and have tailored their immigration policies to attract the brightest students and made it easier for them to stay in those countries," Kapoor explained.

This, however, is unfortunately not the case in the United States, he lamented.

As per United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) statistics, there are 271,000 applications of so-called "H-1B" skilled temporary workers waiting for visa numbers — at the last stage of the green card process. According to Department of Labor figures, there are another 350,000 applicants whose applications are pending at the first stage of the green card process.

"Some of these applications have been pending since 1999," Kapoor noted.

Conservatively, that makes a total of more than half a million employment-based applications pending in the heavily backlogged employment-based system.

As USCIS concedes, however, one must use a factor of 2.2 to find out the actual number of employment-based applicants — a factor accounting for the families of the workers.

The simple arithmetic totals out at 1.1 million legal employment-based green card applicants waiting to have their applications processed — waiting for 6-12 long years.

"And these applicants are doctors, engineers, research scientist, physicist, journalists, assistant professors, biologist, Hi-Tech software professionals and the list goes on," Kapoor explained.

So what's wrong with this picture of the green card slow shuffle? Isn't it supposed to be an exacting process, calling for patience?

No, explained Kapoor, it was always the clear intent of Congress to have the H-1B certification completed in 21-60 days — nothing like the years it is currently taking.

Furthermore, the snail-slow process generates untold harm, according to Kapoor.

During the long wait, highly skilled foreign workers — by virtue of federal regulations — cannot get promotions, buy homes, or change jobs. In some states, such people in the administrative limbo cannot even get their driver's licenses.

In spite of possessing the most desired skills, most highly skilled foreign workers stagnate, Kapoor argued. During this time the H-1B workers cannot utilize newly obtained skills as that would jeopardize their position in this seemingly endless queue.

With the applicants' lives literally on hold, some are not even able to visit their parents and loved ones — perhaps mortally ill in the home country.

Even factors beyond the control of employees like their employing firm being bought out by another firm or the firm relocating to another state voids the H-1B workers' permanent residence application and puts them back at the end of the queue, he noted.

"If this happens after six years of H-1B visa status, these workers are literally forced to uproot themselves from this country and leave the country," Kapoor explained.

Additionally, scientific researchers conducting research in key areas of disease control may not apply for grants — since one has to be a citizen or green card holder to qualify.

Perhaps most significantly, explained Kapoor, a lot of high skilled immigrants have ideas to innovate and start their own companies — companies that would create new jobs for American workers — but in the limbo state, they cannot.

All this is not only taking a toll on the legal immigrants, said Kapoor, it is affecting America's competitiveness and has economic impact. But as one might expect, not everyone is wholly convinced.

In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, techie David Huber — who lost jobs to H-1B foreign workers, driving him to the verge of homelessness — said he spoke not only for himself but for the thousands of unemployed Americans with the skills, drive, and creativity needed to thrive in the current marketplace.

"Many of us cannot find jobs because companies are turning to H-1B workers as a first choice, before even advertising open positions to American workers," Huber testified. "The H-1B program allows companies to hire 85,000 cheap, disposable workers each year before even looking for Americans."

While decrying the alleged misuse of the system, Huber sympathetically noted that H-1B workers are allowed to stay in the United States for up to six years — but only if their employers permit them: "Since the visas themselves are owned by the sponsoring companies, H-1B workers are often treated as indentured servant, dependent upon their employers' good graces to stay in our country.

"It is wrong to force American workers to compete against such a program. The H-1B program tilts the playing field against workers, both American and foreign, in favor of companies."

As the program functions now, Huber argued, companies have strong incentives to favor H-1B workers over American workers. They can and they do give hiring preference to non-Americans, and even replace qualified American workers with H-1B workers, he emphasized.

"I know because it happened to me twice," he concluded.

Kapoor responded to NewsMax about the Huber charge, noting that in his opinion abuses are the exception rather than the rule.

"While even a single abuse of any law is condemned by Immigration Voice, one needs to consider the scale of problems or abuse that have been reported — as compared to the total number of H-1B visa holders working in the United States," he argued.

By way of example, Kapoor pointed to a recently released Government Accountability Office report on H-1Bs, noting that in just 2005, there were 306,927 H-1B labor condition applications approved.

"Now, consider the fact that in the entire 2000-2005 period, there were only 2,737 employees due back wages [as a penalty to errant employers who broke the rules and underpaid a H-1B employee]. That is not even one percent of just one year's applications — forget about five years worth of applications," Kapoor said.

H-1B visas for the highly skilled are limited to 65,000 a year by the federal government — with another 20,000 visas available to foreign-born workers who received a master's or doctorate degree from a U.S. university.

Moreover, only 140,000 of the coveted green cards are available per year, and this figure includes dependents. There is also presently a 7 percent per-country limit — irrespective of industry need.

A pending Senate immigration bill sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., would ramp that 140,000 annual visa supply up to 450,000 a year for a decade before lowering it to 290,000. The bill would also raise the 65,000 (plus 20,000) H-1B annual cap to 115,000.

Kapoor told NewsMax that such an enactment would go a long way to alleviate the problems faced by legal high skilled immigrants already in the system. But he and his organization ideally want relief to go even deeper — with greater transparency in the application process, with spouses of H-1B visa-holders able to work, and with H-1B workers able to change employers during the wait for a green card.

But Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA, doesn't like the numbers: "His [Specter's] proposal, all told, would increase legal immigration by about 1 million per year, which would double it. That's a bad thing if you're an American worker."

However, in final analysis, the raw needs of American high-tech industry may tip the balance.

In 2004, China graduated 500,000 engineers, India 200,000, and the United States only 70,000 (out of which many were foreign born). In the United States, 32 percent of undergrads get science/engineering degrees; in China, 59 percent; in Germany 36 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the United States needs 135,000 new computer professionals a year. However, U.S. universities are producing only 49,000 computer-science graduates each year.

And the trend is all bad news as the number of graduates in the high-tech fields has stayed flat for two decades.

BLS projects the need for science and engineering graduates will grow 26 percent to 1.25 million by 2012.

Kapoor pointed to the sentiments of Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: "We know that more than 40 percent of doctorates in physical sciences now go to non-U.S. citizens, and we know that nearly half the scientific and medical professionals at the National Institutes of Health are foreign nationals. And as we secure America from terrorists, we do not want to risk losing the next Enrico Fermi or Albert Einstein . . . We would be a far poorer nation in many, many ways."

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WASHINGTON -- With comprehensive immigration reform focused on the millions of illegal aliens in the country, one energetic advocacy group is hustling to educate lawmakers and the public about the million-plus legal immigrants that have no need of amnesty but only a fair...
Group:,Fix,The,Broken,Green,Card,System
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2006-00-01
Friday, 01 September 2006 12:00 AM
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