Visa issues dominate Ro Khanna town hall

“It was not just an issue of fairness but of gender equality and human rights,” the Congressman Khanna said of H4 employment authorizations, given to spouses of H-1B non-immigrants

Ritu Jha

Congressman Ro Khanna (Democrat, California) got to address a lot of issues at his town hall in Milpitas January 14, answering questions from the conflict over the Iran nuclear deal, the beleaguered Children’s Health Insurance Program, manufacturing issues, to the foul smell lingering around Milpitas.

But the questions that kept coming back at him from the 450-strong crowd were the fates of the H1-B work visa program and the H4 visa for those dependent on those with H1-B visas.

Dibyendu Roy started off by asking Khanna how those with H4 employment authorization would be affected if they lose their dependent status.

Khanna said he backed the Obama administration’s view permitting dependents to work, pointing out that studies showed that domestic violence and abuse were far higher when a spouse is unable to work.

After President Barack Obama’s executive order starting May 26, 2015, certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B non-immigrants were allowed to work in the US.

Khanna said it was not just an issue of fairness but of gender equality and human rights.

“It’s cruel to take away the status that was given to them,” he told indica on the sidelines of the meeting, and pointed to the huge turnout, saying, “It’s wonderful they came out. These women are doing wonderful work and adding great value to the community and family.”

Asked if there any hope for change, he said, “Yes there is – if there is more activism, [if] they speak to their elected officials and [those officials] speak to their leadership. I am just a rookie still, but I can speak to the leadership,” he said.

Dibyendu Roy asking question his question about H4 employment authorization.

Roy, whose wife has an H4 and is authorized to work, said, “The time is short and now we don’t know what is going to happen.”

Standing with a group of young men and women, with banners saying ‘Save H4 EAD,’ Roy said, “The problem is that it took us a lot to get the H4 EAD introduced in the first place. And now one fine morning they are rolling it back without hearing stories from actual people who are impacted.”

“We are all legal immigration and we are all paying our taxes and we are here legally – by the book,” he said, “The H4 EAD executive order was passed after five years of long struggle; it shouldn’t be just revoked without any consideration.”

He said that their families had invested in the country and were in line to become citizens, serving the country and the economy in the process.

“But stripping away a right of a woman to make a career in a first world country doesn’t make sense,” Roy said.

Mayuri Soneji, a visitor from Irvine, Southern California, is on an H4 and authorized to work.

Congressman Ro Khanna addressing the town hall meeting in Milpitas, Jan.14.

She told indica, “I waited for 13 years for the work permit and now they are saying they are going to take it away. People have worked hard after getting EAD and basically, it gives independence. Most importantly, it’s not just life-changing, it’s about you being happy within.”

Another group from Immigration Voice, consisting of people on H1-B visas who are waiting for their green cards, asked about H.R.392, the “Fairness for High‐Skilled Immigrants Act,” asking if it would supplant the “Immigration and Nationality Act” by eliminating the green card distribution system now based not on talent but on a country of birth cap set at 7 percent.

The group asked if there is a hope it could get attached to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)[which president Trump can look into it]

Khanna expressed his doubt, saying, “In terms of linking it to DACA, I don’t think that will happen because the president wants to link DACA with the border wall. We have to solve the DACA issue first because that’s the promise that’s already been made to those kids, and it’s stripping away something… People are at risk of deportation. But I believe H.R. 392 has to be part of any broader immigration discussion rather than border security.”

H1-B visa holders advocating for H.R.392, the “Fairness for High‐Skilled Immigrants Act.”

Varun Soundarajan, an IV volunteer told indica, “This bill [could] fix the employment-based green card situation and remove the country-based cap…” He said that, if passed, H.R.392 will sharply reduce the wait time for people from large countries like India and China from 70 years to four or five years.

Group members agreed that they would like the bill to also include the DACA proposal.

“DACA kids deserve the fix and everyone here agrees that and we all stand shoulder to shoulder with the DACA kids. And we also have our issues and we respect their problem and we are here to try to fix our problem,” one group member said.

As Soundarajan chipped in, “DACA kids have been there in a very bad situation for a very long time and we would like them to get out of the mess.”

Another attendee at the town hall meeting was Jeevan Zutshi, a community leader who said he wants legislation that will lift the per-country cap on green cards.

He quoted a report from the Cato Institute, an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C, which claimed that Indian nationals have to wait between 50 and 250 years for green cards.

“I feel terrible about this treatment meted out to Indian workers in this country,” Zutshi said.



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