US Citizenship Act 2021 is a False Dawn for Non Resident Indians

The newly elected US administration recently unveiled the US Citizenship Act 2021 and gave false hope to those waiting for employment based green cards. This is especially true for Non Resident Indians (NRIs) who have been hopelessly stuck in the processing backlog for many years.

Indeed, livelihoods for NRIs and the means for their spouse and children to remain inside the US have been at the mercy of this outdated and inefficient system for many decades. 

According to the Cato Institute, the waiting list for employment based green cards has surged. As of April 2020, there are over 1.2 million applicants in line with 68% of the total being NRIs. The primary cause of the backlog is the 7% country cap applied to the maximum 140,000 green cards issued each year in the US. As a result of the country cap, NRIs are limited to 9,800 green cards annually.

The situation has been exacerbated by 4 years of Donald Trump’s nationalism which demonized employment based green cards, especially those for jobs with high qualifications paying high wages.

Most of the backlog is concentrated in two green card categories. As things currently stand, there are 741,209 NRIs waiting for their EB-2 or EB-3 green card petitions to process. It is estimated the backlog will to take 84 years to clear with an estimated 205,665 deaths occurring before they reach the front of the line.

Birthplace Backlog Years to Process
India 741,209 84
China 79,020 11
Philippines 20,803 4
Other 83.212 5

Assuming the they do not leave the queue, only 46% of applicants will actually ever receive their green cards. The situation is indeed hopeless and desperately in need of effective reform. Additionally, political fortitude will be needed to implement the changes.

The US Citizenship Act 2021

Ostensibly, the solution will be President Biden’s new immigration reform agenda “US Citizenship Act of 2021”. The new immigration agenda promises to “eliminate the per country visa caps” and “clear the employment based visa backlogs”.

However, this is not only good news for NRIs but also the 10.5 million illegal immigrants (mostly of Latin American descent) already living in the US – 2/3rds of whom have resided in the US for over 10 years and enjoy entrenched political support.

So is President Biden’s reform agenda the utopian panacea that NRIs are hoping for? Or is it just another false dawn for US immigration reform?

Either way, the road ahead for NRIs trying to acquire a US employment based green card is fraught with obstacles, not least of which would be a resurgence of anti-immigrant politics. 

The Political Reality Facing NRIs 

The components of the US Citizenship Act 2021 must be approved by both houses of congress to become law. However, democratic majorities are razor thin in both houses. Additionally, partisan politics are more fierce then ever before with the recent unprecedented attack on the Capital by some Republican voters and 139 House Republicans attempting to overturn the election results, plus the ongoing impeachment trial of Donald Trump. 

Nonetheless, optimists are encouraged by the 50-50 split in the US Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast the tie breaking vote – assuming every single Democratic senator supports the legislation. Furthermore, the Democrats hold a precarious majority in the US House of Representatives with a margin of only 2. In total, there are 220 Democratic representatives (down from 235 in 2020) with 218 votes being the majority threshold.

These are the obstacles facing NRIs hoping immigration reform will improve the process to acquire employment based green cards. Additionally, similar legislation seeking to reform immigration has been pending in congress for years.

Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act

As a precedent of things to come, skeptics would reference the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act passed by the US House of Representatives on July 10, 2019. However, the bill has been pending since 2007 and this is the second time it has been passed by the House since 2011.

If successful, the bill phases out the 7% country caps for employment based green cards over a 3 year period (just in time for the next presidential election).

When it reached the senate they inserted several amendments and approved the bill – then sent it back to the House of Representatives. This would normally be a positive sign but the House of Representatives rejected the changes.

On December 21, 2020 the US House of Representatives issued a statement conceding that the bill had no possibility of passing in its current form. As a result, the bill is still in limbo after 14 years. 

NRIs Are Victims of Their Own Success

According to data contained in a recent report by the Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, Indian households are earning remarkably high incomes in comparison to other ethnic groups working inside the US.

Ethnic Group Annual Income (USD)
Asian Indian (NRIs) $119,858
Asian
$87,194
Burmese $45,348
Black $41,511
Latinx $51,404
White $67,937

The working class in the US is not sympathetic to high earners, especially those making more money than they are. Unfortunately, this discrimination is exacerbated if the higher earning household is from a “foreign” ethnic group. NRIs simply do not have sufficient population numbers inside the US to provide the political protection they need.

US Population Est. 2019 Percentage
White, not Hispanic or Latino 60.1%
Black 13.4%
Asian* 5.9%
Hispanic or Latino 18.5%

*includes all peoples having origins in Far East, SE Asia or Indian Sub Continent. NRIs are estimated to make up 16% of the “Asian” population living inside the US.

The Possible Resurgence of Anti-Immigrant Populism

Make no mistake, populist politics are a reality that exists on both sides of the political aisle. Donald Trump exploited the nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-China form of populism while President Biden exploits the non-homophobic, non-racist, anti-China form of populism.

The source of all populism is the same – economic inequality – they are simply different means to the same end.

Populism is divisive and erratic, which Donald Trump displayed to the extreme. However, taking the opposite approach of a predecessor is certainly not exclusive to former President Trump. President Biden is currently reversing many of Trump’s policies with immediate effect. Ironically, this is exactly what President Trump did with Obama’s policies as soon as he took office.

So if President Biden does manage to make some positive reforms to US immigration policy, it goes to show they can easily be reversed by executive order or act congress as soon as the next election cycle – which in the US – is never too far off.

Indeed, even with Trump’s bungling of his reelection campaign e.g. being infected with COVID-19 the results of the 2020 presidential race were extremely close. The election could have easily went the other way.

US State Biden Share Trump Share Dem ’20 Margin
15 Key Battleground 48.4% 50.1% -1.7%
Non-battleground 53.4% 44.5% 8.8%

Conclusion

NRIs need a alternate plan and cannot endlessly wait for political solutions such as the US Citizenship Act 2021 or the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act. Instead, prepare for an uncertain future and choose an non-immigrant visa solution which would be politically acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans.

The Grenada passport program provides successful applicants with US E-2 visa eligibility and grants the right to live and work in the US for an initial 5 year term which can be renewed in perpetuity. Additionally, the spouse of the main applicant can live in the US and enjoy open market employment opportunities while their children up to 21 years old can attend school in the US and qualify for in state tuition.