In a move that surely provides some relief to the Indian diaspora in the US, the American government has sped up the green card processing by five years for H-1B and L-1 visa holders. Now, employees who had applied for a green card before Jan 1, 2015 can begin the final process for getting their green cards.
Till now, the date of filing was February 1, 2010.
The five-year difference would benefit hundreds of Indians who were waiting to file for their green card. To understand the importance it is necessary to look at the current green card landscape in the US.
Why is this important?
There is an annual cap of 140,000 for employment-based green cards split across five employment preferences EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 and EB-5, with each country getting a maximum of 7 percent of the vacancies. Of these, the categories most relevant to Indians are EB-2 and EB-3, where most H-1B and L-1 visa holders fit in.
Indians are the largest beneficiaries of H-1B and L-1 visas, and also one of the largest employment-based green card applicants in the US in the EB-2 (advanced degree holders) and EB-3 category. CATO Library, an immigration think tank based in the US, estimates the backlog for Indians in the said category to be in the range of 7 lakh as of 2019.
This meant that only a small portion of Indians get their GCs approved every year. At this pace, it would take 195 years for Indians to get their GC, said reports.
What did the new visa bulletin do?
The October Visa Bulletin has made two key changes to the queue for EB-3.
One, eligible H-1B and L-1 visa holders who have their green card petition (I-140) approved before January 1, 2015 under EB-3 can now file I-485. Application of I-485 is the final step in the green card process. Once the I-485 is approved, they will get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Having an EAD makes a lot of difference, as it would allow the visa holder to switch employers and move freely in and out of the US. In addition, dependents get their EAD as well. Netra Chavan, who runs one of the largest groups for H-1B and H-4 visa holders, said it takes a year or two to get their GC after this process based on their priority date (when their petition for GC was accepted).
Joel Yanovich, immigration attorney, Murthy Law Firm in the US, said, “This is going to provide long-awaited relief to countless Indians, especially those with I-140s approved in the EB3 category.”
Kennel Powell, an immigration attorney, pointed out that this would bring down the wait time for Indians, some of whom have been waiting for decades. “If you look at the queue, it was moving 5 or 15 days forward. Even a couple of months would help in reducing the queue.”
Two, it hinted at a rapid forward movement for Indians in both EB-2 and EB-3 categories in the coming months as well. This would mean that there is a possibility of the queue for getting a GC moving much faster for the next few months.
This came on the back of unused family-based visas coming into the employment pool. Due to COVID-19, a large number of family-based green cards were left unused after US President Donald Trump passed an executive order that banned processing of green cards for immigrants outside the US on April 22. So many of the 226,000 family-sponsored visas were left unused.
As per US law, unused cards can be used for employment-based GCs, and that is what has reflected in the recent bulletin. COVID-19, immigration experts said, has unexpectedly increased the chances for Indians.
However it has not done much for those under the EB-2 category and they will have to wait longer to get their EAD, and eventually the GC.
So what now?
As the new visa fee takes effect from October 2, time is short for H-1B and L-1 visa holders for filing their petitions before the new fee regime gets underway. The fee has increased from $750 to $1,130 starting October 2020.
An immigration expert pointed out that while this is good news, IT firms that sponsor their employees' green cards should also quickly respond since for many of these H-1B applicants there may be less time left to apply due to visa restrictions.