Millions of professionals from India have immigrated to every part of the world. These highly-skilled individuals have worked hard to make meaningful contributions to their countries of residence and have therefore become “successful Pravasi Bharatiya”!
However, the term “successful” is subjective. Especially in the case of United States of America, the success of Indian immigrants is increasingly becoming questionable. As of November 2016, a conservative estimate shows approximately 500,000 Indian nationals stuck in long queue of gaining permanent residency  , an assurance of not being kicked out of the country, also commonly known as Green Card. While they must wait for decades to get the Green Card, their careers are limited and the day to day life remains in limbo. This is not only harming the professional careers and the quality of lives for these individuals, but also directly affecting the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit both India and United States have enjoyed so far!
Back in the 20th century, United States became known as the land of opportunities because of its ability to attract and retain immigrants with innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Transitioning into the 21st century, the United States immigration system is failing to keep up with changing times. The legal immigration system, which the country benefited tremendously from, is now so outdated that it is affecting highly-skilled immigrants and American workers-alike.
Glaring Issue #1 – Career-limiting Decades Long Wait
A fixed number of Green cards are issued every year, but a very small percentage is issued to legal high skilled immigrants. This is further restricted by a “Country of Origin” quota system that allots 7% of the total number of Green Cards to each country. This is the same number whether it is Nepal or Sri Lanka, or a populous nation like India or China. The employment-based immigrant application that relied heavily on the skills of an individual initially, eventually gets stuck in a backlog because the law prohibits processing any more than a set number of applications per country.
Moreover, there seems to be an incorrect interpretation of the rule which has resulted in dependents getting counted within the marginal allotted quota. Thereby, making the backlogs further worse.
All this means that it may take potentially up to 70 years , or more , for an Indian national who applies today to receive an employment-based green card in the most common employment categories, compared to a couple years for someone from Bangladesh.
While these hundreds of thousands of individuals wait in line, they cannot change jobs easily, accept promotions, start their own ventures, or, sadly at times cannot travel to India or outside US to see immediate family members in times of joy and sorrow. These wait times are already crushing career aspirations and quality of lives of the individuals, and the families especially kids are suffering the consequences as well.
No matter how many years an Indian immigrant may spend in United States, in the absence of a Green Card, a loss of job will require him to sell his home, his assets in 60 days and leave the country.
Glaring Issue #2 – Indian Students Suffer.
Between 2015 and 2016 alone, close to 165,000 students came to the United States to earn a Bachelors, Masters, or PhD degrees.  It is no secret that higher education in the United States is expensive, and the fees for just a two-year degree can be close to $50,000 or more. American universities have acknowledged how these fees turn into investments in improving their infrastructure, quality of education, keeping aside highly smart and talented students who end up starting new ventures that lead to creation of more jobs.
Unfortunately, the broken immigration system in America is hurting this relationship. Upon graduation, only 20,000 students from around the world get chosen for a temporary worker visa (H-1B) from a lottery. This visa does not insure them a permanent residency, but just an opportunity to temporarily work at the employer for up to a period of six years.
Most of these students who plan to pursue their careers in US using life savings of their parents, end up returning to India with huge debts on their shoulders, and a broken heart after a long struggle with immigration system. Those lucky to get the H-1B visa through the lottery contend with the others already present in the huge backlogs for getting permanent residence.
Glaring Issue #3 – Breaking Families – Kids of Indian Immigrants
Indian-born children who moved to the United States face a grave peril that can harm their career prospects and, worse, subject them to leave the country if their parents have not received a permanent residency or citizenship by the time the children turn 21. Children who spend their entire childhood and schooling in the United States typically are assimilated with the American culture completely.
When it comes time for applying for higher education, they cannot avail any resident benefits and are treated as international students, which typically means more tuition and fees for education. They cannot accept any paid intern or work opportunities to offset the costs because, as dependents, they do not qualify for work visas/permits. With the ever-increasing backlogs for Green Cards, Indian-born children in such families cannot avail resident education benefits or think about building a career for them in a country they call their home. Instead, their dependent visa qualification expires at the age of 21, If they do not have a student or work visa by then, they may be subject to deportation. One can only imagine how this will affect the chances of these children to achieve success in their lives. Especially, if you are forced to restart everything in a country other than the one you have grown and learned to call your home. All this is an unforeseen effect of the broken immigration system. And, this is only going to get worse in the coming years.
A Possible Fix
The United States immigration systems needs to remove the country-based quota of the last century, and stop discriminating highly-skilled immigrants based on the country of their origin. Removing country-based quotas for the principal applicant will not just benefit the individuals, it will also benefit their families. There have been numerous attempts at doing this in the last few years — HR3012 in 2011-2012, S744 in 2013-2014, and HR213 in 2015-2016 . But many factors have resulted in those bills/policies timing out and never becoming law.
Call to Action
If you are a United States citizen, a permanent resident, or even a highly-skilled immigrant stuck in the Green Card backlog, you must all come together, and create just the right amount of influence and awareness so that the lawmakers can abolish country-based quotas and limits. As constituents of the communities you live in, your voice and participation really counts in shaping the change we all want. A simple conversation or a phone call with your congressional representative from the district you live in can help them better understand the contributions skilled immigrants make to the communities they live in, the issues they face, and help them make well-informed decisions towards fixing these issues.
Grassroots organizations like Skilled Immigrants in America (SIIA) are doing their part to make the masses aware, and getting the fair and equal opportunity for skilled immigrants in the United States. Join their volunteer network or their Facebook community to get started.
 – U.S. Department of State. November 2016. Annual Report of Immigrant Visa Applicants. https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/Immigrant-Statistics/WaitingListItem.pdf
 – Skilled Immigrants. YouTube. Stop Discriminating Against Skilled Immigrants. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgCjxRMKTgo
 – David Bier. Foundation for Economic Education. “The Line” for Green Cards Is So Long You Might Die of Old Age Waiting. https://fee.org/articles/the-line-for-green-cards-is-so-long-you-might-die-of-old-age-waiting/
 – Institute of International Education. Project Atlas. International Students in the United States. http://www.iie.org/Services/Project-Atlas/United-States/International-Students-In-US#.WGGmwBsrLIU