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Alone in America, Family in India

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September 2008
Alone in America, Family in India

By Sadia Subhani

Under current law, the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens don't have to wait for green cards. But the nuclear-family members of Legal Permanent Residents are given lower priority.

Amit Thakkar* seems to be living a dream life: he’s young, successful and sociable. He’s climbing up the corporate ladder, and is on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen in three years. But two things are missing—his wife and 12-month-old son.

Amit is among a group of about a million legal, permanent U.S. residents forced to live without their spouses, and in many cases their children. These green-card holders often wait five to seven years for their immediate family members to come to the States. If they had not made a commitment to this country by getting on the citizenship track, it would be far easier for their families to join them. As it is, their wives and children are not even allowed to visit.

"It's incredibly frustrating," said Thakkar, 31, a software engineer in the Silicon Valley. "If I were here on a temporary visa, or had gotten married before I got my Green Card, I wouldn’t be forced to separate from my wife and child.' "

Under current law, the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens don't have to wait for green cards. But the nuclear-family members of Legal Permanent Residents are given lower priority. It's really cruel and immoral," said Randall Emery of American Families United, a 2-year-old group fighting to make immigration law more friendly to nuclear families. "People die waiting overseas for visas. Some divorce."

During last year's contentious debate about immigration reform, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., introduced an amendment that would have given green-card holders the same ability as citizens to bring their spouses and children to the States. But the amendment failed 44-53 after Republican senators argued that the country couldn't suddenly absorb hundreds of thousands of spouses and children.

For green-card holders like Thakkar, there are only two solutions to their dilemma—both of them painful. They can win their citizenship and the right to bring over their families, a process that usually takes at least five years from the date they got their green cards. Or they can wait for visas for their spouses, which can take even longer.

Thakkar says the policy is particularly aggravating because holders of temporary visas are allowed to bring their spouses right away. They include wives of H-1B work visa holders and those here on student visas. Also, since Thakkar has filed petitions for his family, they are unable to travel to the US on visitor visas, since they are considered to have “immigrant intent”, which is not allowed for visitors.

Thakkar came to the United States from India in 1999 to study software engineering at the University of Southern California. He was able to stay and get a green card in 2004 because his skills were considered valuable to the U.S.

On a trip to India in July 2006, he was introduced to Sangeeta, a medical student. "Once I met her, I knew she was the one," Amit says. They married in August 2006, and had a son, Amitabh, in June 2007, but the family won't be able to live together until 2010—at the earliest. Amit needs to become a citizen and then wait another year for his wife and son to get their green cards.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, isn't hopeful Congress will resolve the situation any time soon. "Whenever there is a discussion of making the laws more rational, the anti-immigration advocacy groups raise a hue and cry," said Lofgren, chairwoman of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee.

Congress had briefly allowed for Green Card holders to bring over their family members in 2001, on the nonimmigrant V visa, but that visa was only allowed temporarily. For now, Amit has no options but to wait and wait, while his son grows up with only a mother.

*Name Changed to protect privacy

VISA PREFERENCE NUMBERS FOR SEPTEMBER 2008

FAMILY India                      Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st 01Apr02 01Apr02

2A 01Dec03 01Dec03

2B 15Dec99 15Dec99

3rd 15Jun00 15Jun00

4th 08Apr97 01Oct97

EMPLYOMENT India           Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st Current Current

2nd 01Aug06 Current

3rd Unavailable Unavailable

Other Unavailable Unavailable

4th Current Current

5th Current Current


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