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India And H-1B Visas


It was a year ago today when an Indian tech worker was shot and killed in a Kansas bar. The Justice Department labeled it a hate crime. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports that the shooting also highlights what some consider a broken visa system for some high-tech workers.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Srinivas Kuchibhotla worked as an aviation systems engineer in suburban Kansas City. But after more than a decade of grad school and steady employment in the U.S., his immigration status was still tenuous, hanging on a temporary visa for highly skilled workers called an H-1B. And that caused a big problem the night a man allegedly yelled, get out of my country, and shot and killed him. Kuchibhotla's wife, Sunayana Dumala, knew immediately that losing her husband meant losing her right to stay in the United States.

SUNAYANA DUMALA: I was also trying to process it - oh, my God. What? Do I - should I just have to leave this house? What about the car? What about our dreams? What about everything?

MORRIS: Since Dumala's immigration status hinged on her husband's H-1B, she feared she'd be blocked from returning to Kansas after his funeral in India. And that angered Kevin Yoder, a Republican congressman who represents Dumala's district.

KEVIN YODER: Because if he was from and she was from any other country than India, they would have been American citizens, and that is because there is a country cap on green cards in America.

MORRIS: There are only so many green cards available to H-1B workers each year. And, here's the thing. No more than 7 percent of those can go to people from any one country, even though one country, India, accounts for more than 50 percent of the foreign tech workers here. Kansas City-based filmmaker Prakash Wadhwa argues that the system punishes valuable workers.

PRAKASH WADHWA: The economy does not pick people based on where they are born. Economy picks based on the skills that are needed in the economy. Just so happens that India is supplying those skills.

MORRIS: Wadhwa compares working under an H-1B visa to indentured labor. It's companies that hold the visas, not workers. So for instance, if an H-1B worker loses her job, she's supposed to leave the U.S., and the foreign-born children of H-1B workers face deportation when they turn 21. While Indian workers are most affected, I.T. professionals from China, Mexico and the Philippines also face green card backlogs. Congressman Yoder.

YODER: So our bill eliminates that per country cap, and it says first come, first served, as opposed to picking our workers based upon which country they're from.

MORRIS: More than 300 House members, Democrats and Republicans, have signed on. But John Miano, with the Center for Immigration Studies, says speeding up green cards for Indian workers risks gumming-up an already complicated system.

JOHN MIANO: It would transform America's system of diversity in immigration into an India-first policy of immigration.

MORRIS: Miano says that Indian outsourcing companies already exploit the H-1B visas in bringing tens of thousands of Indian tech workers to the U.S. And Congress is moving to restrict that system. The Department of Homeland Security has proposed reversing Obama-era policy allowing foreign spouses of H-1B workers to hold jobs in the U.S. The bills in both the House and Senate would expand the number of employment-based green cards, even as they slash the number open to other immigrants. Meantime, Yoder's bill to award more green cards to Indian tech workers is still waiting for a hearing. And the Indian community around Kansas City waits to see if an alleged killer who wanted immigrants out of his country will inadvertently help make it easier for some to stay. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.