Green card backlog: Indian doctors bemoan ‘indentured’ reality

RITU JHA

Physicians and healthcare professionals from India get a raw deal thanks to the green card backlog and per-country cap even though they are virtually the backbone of the healthcare system in the United States, pointed out a group of doctors of Indian origin who held a protest in Washington, DC on March 17.

These immigrant doctors and nurses have been fighting to save American lives, living in the US for decades, paying taxes, contributing to the economy but they have no right to participate in any kind of democratic process, the protesters said through a media note.

President Joe Biden should take executive action and offer green cards to frontline healthcare workers, they demanded.

Yes, this is about the green card backlog,” Dr Raj Karnatak, an infectious disease and critical care physician from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told indica News when contacted.

More than green card, this is about how frontline healthcare workers are being disrespected. How Indians are being discriminated against,” he added.

Karnatak was among the protesters.

Among high-skilled immigrants in the green card backlog, there are around 20,000 frontline healthcare workers serving on the frontline during the pandemic,” he said.

The pandemic, he pointed out, has been brutal to frontline healthcare workers and their families.

Many lost their lives, and on top of the Covid-19 crisis frontline healthcare workers have to face an inhumane green card backlog due to the archaic caps that allow no country to get more than 7 percent of employment-based green cards,” he said.

Another protester Dr Pranav Singh, a pulmonary and critical care physician, was quoted as saying in the media note: “We are frontline Covid warriors, and we are here to tell how we have been shortchanged into a life of perpetual indentured servitude. Each of us has a story. We are here from all over the country asking for justice. Justice that has precluded us for decades now.”

Dr Karnatak lamented that the immigrant healthcare workers from other countries get green cards within months to a year but high-skilled immigrants from India wait decades, and the current estimated wait time is 195 years.

We are being cut in line by every other country,” he said. “An unborn child in the womb in any other country who will grow up, go to school and college, and eventually will come to the US will get his/her green card before an Indian doctor already living in the US, serving the community, fighting pandemic on the frontline, contributing to the economy, paying taxes and being a good, law-abiding citizen.

Is this the equal opportunity that America prides itself for?” he asked.

He said that due to decades of backlog, many high-skilled immigrants are not able to change jobs because they fear losing their spot in the green card line, and are virtually indentured to one employer.

They can only work in the specialty occupation the visa is allotted for decades, Karnatak explained.

Many healthcare workers could not serve in Covid-19 hot spots as the visas are tied to the job and employer, he pointed out.

Frontline healthcare workers in the backlog have children who despite living in the US for all their lives risk aging out and have to self-deport when they turn 21, he underlined.

Frontline healthcare workers have aging parents in India and cannot sponsor them to come to the US. High-skilled workers must think thousands of times before deciding to visit family back home due to fear of visa rejections and getting stranded, and spouses who are on the dependent visa are being discriminated against and denied EADs (work authorizations) on time,” Karnatak said.

Personal and professional uncertainties are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of frontline workers, the protesting doctors said. People are dying in green card backlog; their spouses and children are being deported.

And these frontline healthcare workers risked their lives to save American lives and were called healthcare heroes,” Karnatak said. “If this is not a human rights crisis then we don’t know what is.”

The doctors believe President Biden can fix it.

Why can’t President Biden bring a reprieve to the frontline healthcare workers by signing an executive order to end the green card backlog?” Karnatak said.

The frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives in this pandemic, the least we deserve is a certainty. A certainty that if we die or get disabled, our children and spouses won’t be kicked out of the country.”

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