Friday, June 15, 2012

Employment Based Green Card Marathon

There are 3 most popular ways to get a Green Card to live and work in US: Through Marriage with a US Citizen, Employment Sponsorship and the Diversity Lottery. I would like to articulate on the unfairness of the process for the Employment based applicants and its repercussions.

After getting a scholarship to study at Brandeis University, I arrived in the United States on August 28, 1998 on an F-1 Student Visa. After graduating with my Master's degree, I had 1 year of OPT - Optional Practical Training which allowed me to work for companies that were in fields similar to my concentration.

Next chapter in my immigration story is the H1-B Work Visa which is frowned upon. This visa provides an entry point for skilled immigrants and it is one of the very few points of entry to the US based on merit. Scorn on this quota of about 85k is well deserved on an emotional level, especially when considering high unemployment of today's workplace. Yet, working in IT and being involved with hiring employees for certain positions/technologies, we had months and months of delay waiting for an available US citizen who was qualified for the requirements. In the meantime, we were flooded by foreigners who just graduated or held H1-B visas that met the requirements.

In college, I had opportunities to cheat the system and ask my girlfriend at the time to marry me for a couple of years until I got the Green Card via marriage. I never resorted to these options. I also participated in the Diversity Lottery every year, but, at the end of the day, it is a lottery and simply I was not lucky enough.

In late 2004, my company at the time was kind enough to sponsor me for Green Card. Application started early 2005, which involves 3 parts, application for PERM, a job search to see the demand for my position (I140) and finally adjustment of status (I485). You get a priority date at the end of the second part and you can keep this date if you move to a different company. That is exactly what happened to me. I switched jobs due to a great offer in September 25, 2006 and kept my priority date of October 21, 2005. The long duration of the application is certainly a career handicap.

My new company wanted to wait for a year, some sort of grace period, before applying for the sponsorship. In 2007, we re-started the application process and went through the same steps. At the end of the second step, I had to wait for dates that are announced on USCIS website every month. There are many levels (EB1, EB2, EB3 where EB is Employment-Based) of application and the lower the number the quicker your turn comes. Our attorney convinced me to apply as EB3 (lower level - even though I qualified for EB2) which, as they mentioned, would not attract an audit. (you qualify for EB2 if you have a masters degree and 3 years of experience, which I had at that time). However, EB3 wait times progress a lot slower than EB2. In fact, a few friends who applied around the same time with me and got audited with their EB2 applications got their Green Cards years ago.

I waited until August 2011 for the EB3 date to match my Priority Date of October 2005. I consider myself lucky when comparing my wait-times to that of Chinese and Indian applicants, which are way older than mine. (Currently, Indian and Chinese applications with Priority Date of 2003 are being served). Matching priority dates allows you to move on with the last step, which we filed for right away in August 2011, the adjustment of status. The wait times for each service center and types of applications are reflected in another website. Currently, my filing time of August 5, 2011 is older than the processing dates of November 1, 2011. In this case, USCIS allows you to open a service request, which would clarify if there is any anomalies or problems with the application... that's what I did last week.

If you've read so far, I am very impressed. It is an arduous and exhausting process. In my life, career and friendships, I never cut corners and never resort to anything illegal. I've done everything by the book and spent many years (almost 8 years) in the Green Card application process. I am grateful for all that US provided to me and my family and I would do it exactly the same way if I had another chance.

I wrote this entire story to point out the unfairness of this system: In late 2004, around the time when I started the GC process, a good friend from Istanbul reached out to me with the good news that he had won the GC lottery and will be moving to US. Of course, I helped him out and he moved in with me and became my house-mate. He got married with his life-time love and became a US citizen in 2010. His wife got a Green Card in early 2012 and she is expecting to be a US citizen in a couple of years. Provided I can get "greened" in 2012, I would have to wait until 2017 to be a US Citizen. (19 years from my arrival to the US as a student - I will be 37 at that time)

This is what I am protesting, it is not fair. I invested my life in US, I am working here, living here, paying taxes (even Social Security taxes, which some foreigners do not because they do not think about living here for more than a short period of time), paying back my school loans, buying a home etc. I have no flexibility for starting a business venture or make a career move due to my "golden handcuffs". I studied here, have lived here for 14 years and I am still an alien with a visa, yet my friend is instantly a resident where his major qualification is winning the diversity lottery. I will have to spend 19 years in US to become a citizen whereas he just needs 4.5 years. It is not fair and it is detrimental to the morale, productivity and contribution to the society, family and self. Despite all this delay and unfairness I am happy and grateful to be here.