A bipartisan group of American senators (Four Republicans + Four Democrats) released a framework for an immigration act today. This means that comprehensive immigration reform is very likely to happen in the United States this year. Such reform has reached the point of bipartisan consensus as the incentives to attract enough Republican support have been reached. While much of the media focus and coverage of any ensuing Senate bill, House bill and law will be on the impact on the 10 million+ undocumented immigrants from Mexico, reform is also likely to have sweeping impact on the hundreds of thousands of Indian families that have a F1 or H1B visa holder/seeker in them. In short, the paths to these visas, a green card and eventual citizenship are likely to get easier while also more expensive.
Here below are four detailed thoughts after parsing the initial framework laid out by the Senate bipartisan committee –
1) Getting a green card is going to be easier – Much to the chagrin of Indian programmers and engineers who sought green cards from the 00’s, the path to a green card is likely going to get much easier and more deterministic. Until now, Indians who come to study in the US go thru anywhere from 3-x years of uncertainty dealing with the various stages in the work visa and green card processes. They are captive to quotas, political mood swings and global economic events. They struggle to plan their careers and lives as they hang on to familiar jobs in the hope that they don’t add more uncertainty to the process. Well, not any more!
The big technology giants are role-model firms to members of both political parties. And for a few years now they have lobbied for and insisted on making it easier for America to hang on to talent that graduates from American universities. Mitt Romney took this to a logical extreme when he said,”“If the [immigrant] student does so well that they get an advanced degree, I’d staple the green card to their diploma”?” President Obama and the Democrats find natural allies in the socially liberal highly educated members of technology schools and companies. Couple these with constant pimping of a flat world and BRIC economies, the image of the foreign technology or engineering graduate has never been higher within American politics.
It is almost impossible to find a cause that has so much unity in Washington D.C right now. So whatever process takes shape and however much the framework gets pushed at the edges, the ensuing law will invariably make it easier for Indians in U.S universities to get a green card. This much we can be sure of.
2) Getting a green card is going to be more expensive – Much to the delight of the Indians who sought green cards in the 00’s, the path to a green card is likely going to get much more expensive.
The U.S Government is struggling for revenue right now. Raising taxes and cutting government spending are unpopular but the objective of cutting the nation’s deficit and debt have the public approval rating of a Deepika Padukone vs. Priyanka Chopra pillow fight among IIT hostelites.
So the nation’s politicians are in a constant search for money in ways that don’t hurt taxes or spending. One of the few ingenious but practical ways to do this is to make getting a work visa/green card easier but more expensive. How many middle class Indian families will let a one-time fee of USD 5000 – USD 15000 come in the way of their kid’s future? I don’t imagine employers footing much of the bill either. They have powerful lobbies and I expect the final bill will have a fairly expensive price tag for the future green card holder. What the current lot pay for in time, the next lot will pay for in cash. Seems like a very fair tradeoff for increased certainty about one’s country of permanent residence.
3) There will be much more Indian employee churn at technology companies – When an Indian is hired from a university into a technology firm today, he/she stays/is forced to stay very loyal for a long time. An employee spends his first few months (up to 24) on an Employee Authorization card (EAD), followed by up to seven years in H-1B purgatory before an indeterminate number of years waiting for something known as the priority date to become current. In most cases this process is driven by the employer. This meant that once the visa wheels started turning, the employer and employee had a distinct hidden contract to have a long-term relationship of convenience even if the job sucked ass.
This will not be the case once immigration reform is done in the next 10-12 months. The employer will be more prone to hiring newbies including newer Indian graduates from universities knowing that the talent acquisition and visa sponsorship costs are now much lesser. The employee knowing he/she has the stability to hang around in the US much longer will be more prone to quitting unhappy jobs and/or constantly looking for better opportunities.
4) Conditions, checks and balances – American policy and politics is at a certain level a bunch of checks, balances and more checks and conditions. So look for the law to be written so that a lot of caveats are enforced. If it was as simple as Mitt Romney said it should be, the fly-by-night colleges that dole out Master’s degrees will be the bubble and scam of 2015. If a graduate was being given permission to stay on in the country, expect for some control mechanisms either thru expanded quotas/some new exotic flavor of the green card or just a bigger tax slice from the paycheck. Also expect universities to fight against the generous two tier system being set up based on field of choice. This will end up with some tweaking of the definition of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Management) or be tied to nature of job for a certain # of years.
The next few months will expose how this framework gets molded into law. I will follow-up on the progress of the bills thru various committees, on this blog. Do read.
P.S: On a related note, I have written a newer post on March 20 2013, on the state of immigration reform 2013 here.