“Jay” – an assumed name to protect his privacy – came to the United States in 2012, attended a business school – although he had an engineering background – and took a job in finance because the company sponsored him.
“I could carve myself a career in whichever industry I pleased despite my engineering background,” he said. Nonetheless, he struggled after graduating business school because he could not find a sponsor. He applied to hundreds of companies and was hired in 2013 for a salary that was half of what other American graduates from his school were getting.
After working there for a year and a half, he got a raise that brought him close to parody. He changed jobs for another company. But then he received an offer from a major investment company which agreed to file for his green card, which would allow them to hire him.
Now, changes President Donald Trump imposed in 2017 suspended processing for people seeking to change employers. The federal changes also revoked the right for spouses of people like him under the H1B visa program to work.
If this wasn’t difficult enough, the president imposed new regulations that would require all green card applicants to undergo a vigorous interview process. In the past, immigration officials did a sampling of about 5 percent of the total candidates. Under new regulations, all green card applicants must be interviewed.
Since green cards – authorization to work or even go to school in the U.S. – are tied to a particular job title or situation, any change requires a reapplication, and therefore an interview.
While the company Jay works for is willing to file his green card application, approval hinges on the interview. Even with only 5 percent of the applicants interviewed, this process took nearly a year. With the increased work load, estimates are in years, not days. It means that people like Jay are frozen in their jobs.
If he quits his job, he will need to find a new job within a few months or face deportation.
Jay has a friend who was laid off from a prestigious job just after purchasing a new home and car to accommodate the birth of his first child. He was faced with finding a new job within a few months or be without an income to pay his debts.
With the green card application process slowed to a crawl, it is possible he will be deported before he has a chance at getting a job.
A questionable anti-terrorism move
The new regulations are part of the federal government’s anti-terrorism program, called “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” It affects any immigrant seeking permanent residency in the United States.
In the past, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) waived interviews for most candidates to focus on groups they thought might be higher risk.
According to acting USCIS Director James W. McCament, this change reflects “the administration’s commitment to upholding and strengthening the integrity” of the immigration system.
The interviews are supposed to provide USCIS with the opportunity to verify information provided in an individual’s application and to discover new information, as well to determine “the credibility of the individuals seeking permanent residence.”
Before October 2017 when the order went into effect, most people applying for employment-based green cards had their interview waived. This is particularly true if they have extraordinary skills and the employer petitions on their behalf and sponsors their work visa.
Federal officials hope to reduce the time an application is processed by advances in technology. But since the changes will most affect areas with a large immigration population such as in Hudson County, the delays are expected to be massive.
“More than half the people who you see in Newport Mall are immigrant students, this is going to affect Jersey City hard,” Jay said. “This will affect guest workers like myself as well as students.”
Frozen in place
Jay is frozen in the job he has, unable to move up or to another job, because of the new regulations. Since his green card is tied to a particular job title, he must remain there. Should he become unemployed like his friend, he might be deported.
He currently has student loans, which he would have to pay back on a significantly lower salary offered by companies in India.
“It currently takes 11 to 15 years on average for Indian and Chinese students to get their green card,” he said, noting that the increased interview process will create an even heavier hardship.
He said the new green card application not only affects his ability to seek another employer, but also to seek promotions with his own company.
Jay doesn’t want to remain in finance the rest of his life.
“I also hold aspirations to start a biotechnology company of my own in the intermediate future, leveraging the breakthroughs in genomics to improve healthcare outcomes while bringing down cost – which is a significant scourge on the American economy,” he said. “Perhaps I lack the ingenuity and intelligence to build such a business, but there are thousands of (immigrants) like me contemplating similar decisions. One of them, I am sure you can grant, is the next Steve Jobs, the next Howard Hughes, the next John Rockefeller, the new Andrew Carnegie. The current U.S. immigration policy stands in the way of their endeavor to create entire industries that will create employment and prosperity for the American people.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.