Immigration Reforms: Hopes of Indian Diaspora in US Dashed |

Immigration Reforms: Hopes of Indian Diaspora in US Dashed |

MUMBAI: The National Security Agreement – a $118.28 billion package that was announced on Sunday after long-standing negotiations between The Democratic and Republican representatives that primarily sought to strengthen border security and authorized more assistance to Israel and Ukraine, while also containing some immigration related provisions that would benefit immigrants, especially the Indian diaspora has been declared ‘dead on arrival’.
The bill sought to protect aged out children of H-1B visa holders, provide automatic employment authorization to certain categories of spouses of H-1B visa holders and also sought to increase the quota limits for green cards (both family and employment based). According to political pundits and immigration experts, it is unlikely that the bill (even if it gets placed on the floor for voting) will be passed in both houses of the US Parliament.
Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson has tweeted, “I’ve seen enough. This bill is even worse than we expected, and won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the President has created. As the lead Democrat negotiator proclaimed: Under this legislation, “the border never closes.” If this bill reaches the House, it will be dead on arrival.”
Included in the package was a funding of $60.06 billion to support Ukraine and $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel. It also included $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, Ukraine and other people in conflict zones.
There were multiple provisions relating to immigration that would have significantly benefited the Indian diaspora.
A fact sheet issued by the White House, on Sunday, February 4 – ‘Biden-Harris administration calls on Congress to immediately pass the bipartisan national security agreement’ provides


of the bill including those relating to immigration, which are outlined below:

Ageing out protection to children of H-1B workers:

TOI has in the past covered several bills, such as the America’s Children Bill (reintroduced in May 2023) which sought to protect documented dreamers from aging out of their legal immigration status when they turn 21. Documented dreamers are those children who were brought to the US when they were kids. Their parents entered the US legally on non-immigrant visas such as H-1B. Currently, when these children turn 21 (age out), they can no longer continue with their H-4 dependent visas. Either they have to transit to an F-1 visa meant for international students, which has its own challenges such as higher fees and restricted work eligibility; or they have to self deport to their home country. They also have to drop out of the green-card queue as their parent was the primary applicant, which is a double whammy.
The National Agreement seeks to provide relief to over 2.50 lakh individuals who came to the US as children on their parents’ work visa (mainly H-1B) – a significant number of children who will age out are from Indian families. “These individuals have resided lawfully in the US since they were children and have established lives here in the U.S but have since ‘aged out’ of continuing to receive lawful status through their parents and have no other means of lawfully remaining in the US with their families. Noncitizens who lived lawfully in the US as a dependent child of an employment-based nonimmigrant for at least 8 years before turning 21 will be eligible to remain temporarily in the US with work authorization,” explains the White House fact sheet.

Work authorization to H-1B spouses:

The factsheet points out that this bill provides work authorization to approximately 25,000 K-1, K-2, and K-3 nonimmigrant visa holders (fiancé or spouse and children of U.S. citizens) per year, and about 100,000 H-4 spouses and children of certain H-1B nonimmigrant visa holders who have completed immigrant petitions (temporary skilled workers) per year, so they no longer have to apply and wait for approval before they can begin working in the United States. This would have been of immense help to spouses of Indian H-1B visa holders.

Increase in green card quotas

: Through the Immigration Nationality Act (INA), the US Congress authorizes the government to issue 6.75 lakh green cards annually. From this total, 4.80 lakh green cards are allotted for ‘family preference’ immigrants; 1.40 lakh for ‘employment-based’ immigrants; and 55,000 for diversity visa lottery winners (Indians are not eligible for this category). The White House fact sheet explains, “For the first time in over 30 years, the bill raises the cap on the number of immigrant visas available annually by adding an additional 2.50 lakh immigrant visas over 5 years (50,000/year). 1.60 lakh of these visas will be family-based, and the other 90,000 will be employment-based.”

Expert Voices:

Ben Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), stated, “The situation at the border is untenable. However, beyond the border itself, America needs and deserves a better immigration system overall, one that combines security and efficiency with fairness and due process. While the bill falls short in some areas the Senate proposal reflects an understanding of the necessity of balancing these interests. This effort is not a comprehensive solution, but it represents a serious approach that recognizes the need for broader reform.”
He added that there are a number of provisions that are positive. Among them: an infusion of family and employment visas over five years, guaranteed legal representation for unaccompanied children 13 and under, recognition of the president’s humanitarian parole authority, consideration of and reporting on alternatives to detention, protection against ‘aging out’ for the children of high-skilled (H-1B) temporary visa holders, and a path to citizenship for Afghan refugees that keeps our promises to our allies.
“This Senate bill is far from perfect, but we commend those involved for doing the hard work of building consensus around this critical issue. This bill should be the beginning, not the end of that effort,” summed up Johnson.

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Senator Alex Padilla, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, issued the following statement: “After months of a negotiating process that lacked transparency or the involvement of a single border-state Democrat or member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, it is no surprise that this border deal misses the mark. The deal includes a new version of a failed Trump-era immigration policy that will cause more chaos at the border, not less. It is in conflict with our international treaties and obligations to provide people with the opportunity to seek asylum. It fails to address the root causes of migration. And it fails to provide relief for Dreamers, farm workers, and the other undocumented long-term residents of our country who contribute billions to our economy, work in essential jobs, and make America stronger.”
“When I was sworn into this office, I made a promise that I would fight to fix our outdated immigration system and to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been forced to live in the shadows of our country for far too long. Not a day has gone by that I have not tried to reach out across the aisle to do exactly that. It is critical that we support our allies in their fight to defend democracy and provide humanitarian relief, but not at the expense of dismantling our asylum system while ultimately failing to alleviate the challenges at our border,” added Padilla.

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