Central American Immigration Debate Overshadows Stranded Spouses of Legal, H-1B Visa Workers

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As the emotionally charged national debate over immigration roils communities across the United States, the much-reported movement of thousands of undocumented children across the U.S.-Mexican border into this country has become the latest flash point of discussion.

While the children’s attempts to reunite with family members in the United States has garnered much attention and opened a new subject for discourse, another example of divided immigrant families, working through legal immigration, has been largely overshadowed.

Since October 1, 2013, some 57,000 children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have made their way from their countries — all of which are plagued by drug-trade-fueled violence — through Mexico and illegally into the United States in an attempt to reunite with relatives here. Most of the children have been caught by U.S. authorities and are being housed in temporary emergency shelters, pending a determination of their status. Several of the emergency shelters are in Texas, which has become immigration’s ground zero for these children from Central America.

And Texas is also is the hub of another phenomenon caused by immigration — the significant number of people who have entered the United States legally with an H-1B visa to work, but whose spouses have not been permitted to join them. The federal government grants 85,000 H-1B visas per year to highly skilled workers from overseas. Most work in the technology sector, with 70 percent in computer technology alone. Twenty thousand of the annual H-1B visas are reserved for immigrants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities and colleges.

Many of the spouses of H-1B visa workers are also well-educated, but no matter their credentials, they are not automatically permitted to accompany their spouses into the United States. Of those H-1B visa workers in computer technology, 26 percent of the men and 76 percent of the women are married, but in 2013, only half of the eligible spouses joined these workers in this country.

These statistics do not even account for the children of H-1B visa workers who have been left behind in India and other countries.

Spousal separation adds yet another dimension to the debate over immigration that policymakers Washington may have to address.

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Pentagon Emphasizes Tech Developments, Seeks More Foreign-Born STEM Workers

By | Houston Immigration, Immigration Policy | No Comments

Many industries in Silicon Valley, Texas and the Northeast already rely on highly skilled, foreign-born workers for a significant portion of their workforces. Such workers are particularly valuable in sectors of the U.S. economy tied to the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Last year, a National Foundation for American Policy study found that up to 70 percent of students in a few key U.S. STEM graduate programs are foreign-born. 

And now, the U.S. defense industry is adapting to a national military strategy more reliant on technological superiority than on amassed hardware or troops. As defense professionals at the Pentagon and beyond revise their military plans, they are seeing an increasingly acute need for these talented STEM workers.

The importance of keeping foreign-born, graduating STEM students in this country cannot be overestimated.

Part of the need for foreign-born STEM workers is driven by a simple principle of supply-and-demand economics. The number of available H-1B visas is limited, and many of these STEM workers need the visas to immigrate to the United States. Currently, only 85,000 visas are granted each year. Many foreign-born, would-be STEM professionals come to the United States to study on student visas, but when they graduate, those who cannot obtain an H-1B visa must return to their respective home countries.

The recent budget-driven sequester cut spending in all federal departments, and those cuts have impacted the outlook for future defense strategy. The Obama administration has already reduced military outlays in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, it seeks ways to cut back troop levels and jettison unnecessary, expensive weapons systems in order to maintain an efficiently lean, economical military.

As part of that strategy, the Defense Department has placed a premium on technological advances. But restrictive policies on immigration limit the number of H-1B visas to a total that does not meet the existing demand. The shortage of visas may crimp the Pentagon’s objectives.

Immigration policy troubles the Pentagon, but it is not their only quandary. Competition also affects requiting: many foreign-born STEM graduate students primarily seek a career in Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas. Employment with the defense establishment is often less tempting and, even more often, less lucrative.

A bill that would grant U.S. citizenship to immigrants with advanced STEM degrees passed the U.S. Senate last year, but it has sputtered in the House. Meanwhile, Defense Department officials have publicly emphasized the need for new technologies.

“We must maintain our technological edge over potential adversaries,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

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In Texas, Nominal Political Allies Stand at Odds Over Immigration Reform

By | Citizenship and Naturalization, Employer/Employee, Houston Immigration | No Comments

How generous should Washington, D.C. be in granting work-related visas? A largely conservative camp argues that immigrants displace American workers. In general, conservative mindsets will not favor a a standardized, government-sanctioned flow of foreign workers into the United States.

But the agriculture industry, a powerful constituency generally aligned with conservatism, resoundingly advocates for immigration reform. And that rural call is perhaps loudest in Texas.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Texas Farm Bureau, its local chapter, have repeatedly ventured to Capitol Hill this year to lobby for immigration reform. They call for legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, similar to a bill that passed the U.S. Senate in 2013. The agricultural sector has been full-throated in its support of what it perceives to be its interests, especially since the timing of the immigration debate coincides with an important debate over a new farm bill. Whether through price supports or through a guaranteed flow of immigrant farm workers, agricultural supporters are hoping to protect their farms.

“Let’s just cut to the chase on this thing: 85 percent of the agricultural labor that goes on in the state of Texas … is done by either undocumented or illegally documented people,” said Steve Pringle, legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau. “If and when that labor supply is not there, that production simply goes out of business.” Representatives for the Texas Farm Bureau are among the most avid supporters of immigration reform. 

However, if one considers the importance of the agricultural sector in the overall economy of Texas, the farm lobby’s stance acquires a more general appeal.

Agriculture’s importance to the Lone Star State’s economy is quite clear:

Texas ranks second in the nation for total agricultural receipts (behind California)
Texas is first in the nation for total livestock and livestock product receipts, which includes 20 percent of the nation’s beef cattle and its largest concentration of sheep
As the nation’s top producer of cotton, Texas accounts for 29 percent of U.S. cotton revenues
Texas is the third biggest producer of nursery and greenhouse products as well as a leading producer of various grains, fruits and nuts

The increasingly noticeable rift between the agricultural sector and conservative political figures has grown at home as well as in Washington. Indeed, all the leading candidates for statewide offices (including lieutenant governor and agriculture commissioner) have been have been diametrically opposed to the position on immigration reform supported by the Texas Farm Bureau.

“Let’s just put it this way,” Pringle said. “We are finding conservative Republicans less and less supportive of agriculture.”

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Will Khobragade’s Diplomatic Row Impact U.S. Immigration Bills?

By | Citizenship and Naturalization, Immigration Policy, News & Press | No Comments

Sometimes, the final resolution of an important issue is swayed by both politics and tangential events. Politics, certainly, has already shaped the issue immigration reform. Now, a seemingly unrelated controversy has arisen and has the potential to shape some part of immigration reform in the U.S.

The controversy surrounding former Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade has captured international media attention. Khobragade was arrested in New York City on December 12, 2013, for allegedly underpaying and exploiting her domestic employee, Sangeeta Richard.

Footage of Khobragade being strip-searched by U.S. federal law enforcement authorities has enflamed passions in India. Many believe she was disrespected and humiliated; advocates insist that she should have avoided such treatment because of her diplomatic immunity. At the same time, many Americans were appalled at Khobragade’s alleged flaunting of U.S. labor laws.

The U.S. attorney for the district of Manhattan, Preet Bharara, filed a memorandum denying Khobragade’s motion to dismiss the visa fraud indictment against her, saying that there was no basis for her immunity.

“Having left the U.S. and returned to India, the defendant currently has no diplomatic or consular status in the U.S., and the consular level immunity that she did have at the relevant times does not give her immunity from the charges in this case, crimes arising out of nonofficial acts,” Bharara said. “The defendant attempts through her motion to concoct a theory of immunity out of a UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) “Blue Card” that she purportedly had for a brief Indian delegation visit to the UN that ended close to three months before her arrest.”

The row that has ensued since Khobragade’s arrest — she left the United States on January 9, 2014 — has frayed U.S.-India relations and has led to some retaliatory measures against American diplomats stationed in India. It remains to be seen, however, whether Khobragade will become a standard image of a mutually embarrassing diplomatic incident or something more damaging.

Practical considerations may simply recapture attention on their own, pushing the Khobragade affair aside. After all, the United States is one of India’s largest trading partners and direct investors, and the two biggest democracies in the world have been increasing their military cooperation in the face of their common rival, China, and its rising power and influence in Asia.

Ultimately, it is likely that interested parties in both the U.S. and India will need to mount a sustained, effective lobbying campaign in the stateside debate over immigration, especially over visas such as the H-1B. Such efforts may help tip the scales in favor of a more immigrant-friendly bill in the U.S. Congress, replacing the possibility of an inappropriate focus on an international incident involving only a handful of people.

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History Suggests That Immigration Reform Has Good Prospects in Election Year

By | Immigration Policy, News & Press | No Comments

The role of politics can never be underestimated during the voters’ dance on Capitol Hill that spins legislation. As Congress enters another election year, conventional wisdom would say that immigration reform may be one of the political game’s most high-profile issues still standing without a resolution — except that history has tended to belie that conventional notion.

The general population of the United States has shown a long-term, marked resistance to the relaxation of immigration standards. This prevailing sentiment has, at times, translated into overtly anti-immigrant manifestations. Historically, these stances have been most pronounced during economically distressed times. In such circumstances, nativist groups lobby for restrictions to immigration on the premise that a restricted or eliminated flow of immigrants would help to preserve the dwindling number of jobs for Americans.

With the emergence of the Tea Party movement and the evidence of its strength within the Republican Party in recent years, many Republicans — afraid of being “primaried” by a more conservative Tea Party acolyte — have proclaimed their conservative bone fides on such sensitive issues as abortion, taxes and immigration. This phenomenon also tends to keep compromise-minded legislators from straying far from the conservative line.

But past statistics seem to suggest that election-year pressures may not be as pivotal as they are touted to be — at least not on the issue of immigration.

If one were to review the record over the last 50 years (a period that includes some of the most contentious immigration legislation passed in American history), it would become quite evident that election-year status has little bearing on the passage of legislation on immigration. Indeed, of the 81 immigration laws enacted during the five-decade-long period, 70 percent were passed in the same year in which a congressional election was scheduled.

It may seem counterintuitive that the prospects for immigration reform are better in an election year. But with the vast majority of immigration laws focused on such election-salient issues as the economy and law enforcement, immigration is quite magnetic as a running platform for an officeholder.

With the electoral environment more conducive to members of Congress running on immigration reform, perhaps it should be unsurprising that on January 30, 2014, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promulgated a set of principles his caucus adopted that is more flexible and accommodating of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

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Start preparing for the H-1B visa now

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The H-1B season is fast approaching. Every year the Citizenship and Immigration Service grants 65,000 H-1B visas plus 20,000 H-1B visas for students holding Master’s or a higher degree from an US university. The government’s year starts on October 01, and the Citizenship and Immigration Service accepts applications from April 01. Last year more than this number was filed on April 01. Thus the Citizenship and Immigration Service had a lottery and only the lucky ones got the visa. We expect the same this year.

However before we can file the H-1B visa, we need to file an labor condition application with the Department of Labor. This process usually takes about 1 week at least for a recurrent employer, and may take 2 weeks for an employer new to the H-1B visa system. This time can double during late March when the Department of Labor typically receives an avalanche of new cases.

Also because of the increased demand for H-1B visas and the finding of large scale fraud on the part of employers, the Citizenship and Immigration Service expects a large volume of documents. This is particularly true of computer consulting companies and small businesses. And it is always better to submit all documents in the front end, so that the officer has a favorable opinion.

Thus the time to start preparing for the H-1B visa for the fiscal year 2015, (starting on October 01, 2014) is right now.

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State Capital at Vanguard of Immigrant-Rich, Vibrant Texas Economy

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Austin has hitherto been known for the Statehouse, the University of Texas and a booming, tech-based economy. As a financial and cultural center, the city has long stood in the shadows of cities like Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

But in recent years, the Lone Star State’s political epicenter has come of age economically and culturally. Immigration has been a prime engine behind the growing cosmopolitan character of the state capital.

While higher percentages of foreign-born residents still fill the populations of Houston and Dallas (composing 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively), foreign-born Austin residents now make up 20 percent of their city’s community.

Austin’s figure is greater than either Fort Worth (17 percent) or San Antonio (14 percent) can claim. Austin even beats the statewide percentage of foreign-born residents (16 percent) and the national figure (13 percent).

The breakdown of the foreign-born population is rich, too. 66 percent of the group is from Latin America, 24 percent from Asia and 6 percent from Europe.

Immigrants from Asia belong to Austin’s fastest-growing demographic group, boasting a 60 percent growth rate in the last 10 years — three times the rate of overall growth in the city. The dynamic high-tech sector attracts a large number of these Asian immigrants, many of whom seek an education or who already have the skills and education in great demand in the technology industry.

But the healthy economy has not been limited to Austin, nor has its benefits been enjoyed by immigrants only. Indeed, a low-tax, low-regulation environment throughout Texas has spurred growth across the state. That fact, in itself, has been the prime reason why immigrants — both native- and foreign-born — have been drawn to the Lone Star State.

While it may be counterintuitive to think that high immigration would be compatible with low unemployment, the unemployment rate in Texas stands at 6.2 percent — lower than the national rate of 7 percent — even as the percentage of foreign-born residents in the state has risen from 15.7 percent in 2006 to 16.4 percent today.

And when the foreign-born get to Texas (or elsewhere) and settle in, they spend money. It has been estimated that U.S. immigrants from Asia and Latin America possess approximately $2 trillion in purchasing power, which translate into homes, cars and other big-ticket items that help to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

In Austin, much of the rationale for spending among immigrants in the local economy is linked to either the tech industry or to higher education.

“We’ve long had an international community, and it’s very much been tied to the University of Texas,” said Ryan Robinson, an Austin demographer. “That’s huge.”

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White House Remains Steadfast in Support of Senate Immigration Bill

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Many U.S. companies — dependent on a relatively unrestricted granting policy for H-1B visas — are nervous over a U.S. Senate bill that would make the visas more costly.

The Obama administration hopes to make the Senate measure the heart of its immigration reform proposals. As such, the White House has been trying to make the case that the legislation would prove beneficial to work-related immigrants in the United States, particularly to those from India.

When he met with President Obama in September, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signaled his nation’s concern that Congress might restrict immigration from India, particularly that of Indian businesspeople and their capital. With India among the top 10 origins of immigrant entrepreneurs to the United States, it is not difficult to see why the prime minister brought up the issue.

But in throwing his weight behind the Senate-crafted immigration measure, Obama referenced the issue Singh raised (albeit without directly addressing the latter’s constituent concerns).

“The Senate bill would create new pathways for immigrant entrepreneurs and investors and make key improvements to the H-1B program,” reads a White House fact sheet.

Petitioners from India constitute a hefty 64 percent of all workers who come to the United States on H-1B visas, so the White House has also pointed out that the new Senate legislation would increase the number of available H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 each year.

The White House has also emphasized that much-in-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics doctoral and master’s degree graduates would be exempt from the annual 140,000 visa cap. This exemption for STEM graduates could prove significant to Indian students, as Indian immigrants constitute 56 percent of all immigrant students pursuing a master’s degree in computer science and engineering in the United States.

In addition, the White House has stressed the expanded business opportunities it foresees for foreign investors as a result of the Senate measure, which would bump the number of EB-5 visas up from 10,000 to 14,000 per year.

However, resistance to some of the Senate’s key proposals from domestic labor groups (among other interests) block any guarantee that the upper chamber’s measure will survive through the next session, much less emerge unchanged from the House of Representatives.

Still, the language from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue remains supportive of the Senate measure.

“The Senate bill would eliminate the existing backlogs for employment-based green cards, exempt certain employment-based categories from the annual cap and remove annual country limitations altogether,” the White House said.

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Indian Immigrants Account for a Key Share of Foreign-Born Texas Residents

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Ask most people what country is the source of the majority of immigrants to Texas, and the vast majority would probably and rightfully answer with Mexico, the Lone Star State’s neighbor to the south. However, it is safe to say that few people, even within Texas itself, would be able to note India as an prominent country of origin for those immigrating to Texas—much less correctly cite India as the third leading nation in that category.

Immigrants have become increasingly visible in the fabric of Texas society, with U.S. Census Bureau figures pegging the state as experiencing the second biggest jump—
44.9 percent—of foreign-born residents from 2000 to 2011 within the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Not surprisingly, immigrants from Latin America constituted 74.2 percent of foreign-born residents in Texas in 2011, with 59.6 percent from the leading source, Mexico, and 4.3 percent from El Salvador, the second leading country of origin of the foreign-born in Texas.

Asia ranks second as a continental source of foreign-born residents in Texas, accounting for 18.5 percent of all immigrants. India is the largest single point of origin, and a growing one at that, for these immigrants. Indeed, the surge in immigration from this subcontinent to Texas between 2000 and 2011 has set India ahead of erstwhile second-ranking Vietnam. India advanced ahead of Vietnam to assume the third rank among countries of origin in 2011—from 2.9 percent to 3.9 percent—after Mexico and El Salvador.

On a national level, the most recent figures on the foreign-born population from India are only available from Census 2000, but even those numbers place Texas high on the list of destinations for immigrants from India. While California, New Jersey, New York and Illinois were the four states with the largest foreign-born populations from India in 2000, Texas ranked fifth, with 78,388 immigrants from the subcontinent (or 7.7 percent of all Indian-born immigrants in the United States).

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The House' Immigration Deal

By | Houston Immigration, Immigration Policy | No Comments
Joe Biden, and even President Obama supports the House’ piecemeal approach to Immigration.  And this is because Immigration is simply too complex an issue.  While I completely understand the frustration that most illegal people face, being in this country, working for years, a quick comprehensive bill, supported by one party can never be the solution to this complex problem.
According to Bob Goodlatte, R Va, head of the House Judiciary Committee,  used to practice Immigration law.  He will give Immigration a top priority in 2014.  Among the pieces he will be looking at will be visas for high skilled workers, Ag workers E-Verify and securing the border.  Once employers are hiring legal immigrants, the border is secured, and the high skilled (H-1B) and Ag workers (H-2B) here legally, and the country has a need for them—is taken care of, we can talk about the dreamers.  And although the Dreamers were brought into this country as kids, and have known no other country, most of them have merely a high school diploma, and little skill beyond that to get a job.  To have given them a path to citizenship in 13 years as the President wanted, while Master’s Degree holding legal individuals, with job, born in India currently takes 14 years to become a citizen would simply not be fair.
Contact Houston Immigration Lawyer, or Houston Immigration Attorney Annie Banerjee, for more information