150-year wait to get a green card: Indian H1B visa holders hold protest in Silicon Valley

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A group of Silicon Valley tech workers from India marched in San Jose, California, on Dec. 17 to demand better means to secure a green card.

Traditionally, tech startups have used H1B visas to legally hire skilled foreign workers who may eventually qualify for a permanent green card in about a year or two.

However, the cap on skills-based green cards issued per country has resulted in many workers from India being unable to get one.

The green card backlog was further exacerbated by former President Donald Trump in 2020 after he decided to stop all visa applications amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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When President Joe Biden revoked the ban the following year, the H-1B visa to green card backlog had already hit an all-time high of 1.4 million people.

Based on an estimate from the Cato Institute, Indians with advanced degrees seeking permanent residence in the U.S. should expect a wait time of 151 years.

According to the dozens of workers who joined the march, they have been waiting for their green cards for decades.

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"We all have applied for a green card and it has been approved. Only thing is, we need to wait 150 years to get a green card," Akhilesh Malavalli told KPIX CBS SF Bay Area. "A hundred fifty years! I'll be dead. I'll be dead by the time we see a green card."

The protesters held a demonstration in front of Representative Zoe Lofgren (D, CA-19), chair of the House subcommittee on immigration, to urge her to bring her proposed bill to the House floor for a vote in the coming week.

HR 3648, a bill that would remove national origin as a consideration for the green card, was introduced by Lofgren last year alongside Rep. John Curtis (R, UT-03).

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"What we are fighting for is basic equality," Malavalli said. "Treat us based on what skills we bring to this nation and not necessarily based on where we were born."

Under current laws, H1B workers who lose their jobs for whatever reason are granted only two months to find a new job to stay in the U.S. before they become illegal immigrants.

Immediate family members of H1B visa holders can receive an H-4 visa, which is linked to the time limit of the H1B. Children of H1B workers lack the protection that a green card offers in case their parents lose their jobs or die. The law states that they must leave the country when they turn 21, regardless of whether they've lived in the U.S. since they were born.

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