Arindam Majumdar has an engineering degree from India, an MBA in corporate finance and investments from the University of Iowa, and is pursuing a graduate degree in banking from the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking and a Wharton Leadership Diploma from the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked at several of the world’s leading financial institutions, and now manages risk for a bank with more than $20 billion in assets for a national firm headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.
As a guest worker from India, he has always been careful to do things “the right way,” he says, carefully renewing his H-1B status, a three-year visa for highly skilled workers. But because he has a U.S.-born son and a rich life in the United States, he wants to make his status in the United States permanent. So in 2013, during his tenure with a previous employer in Chicago, he and his wife applied for green cards.
A lot of people focus on illegal immigration, but what about fixing legal immigration?
The couple was surprised to learn, however, that it could be another 10 years or more before they were approved. Majumdar even wondered if the couple’s pathway to citizenship might be quicker if they merely waited 14 years for their son to turn 21, at which point he could petition on their behalf. “A lot of people focus on illegal immigration, but what about fixing legal immigration?” says Majumdar. “As a legal immigrant trying to pursue my American dream, the current system is disheartening. Because even though I contribute and pay taxes, I haven’t been able to get a green card.”
For now, Majumdar has to make do with his H-1B visa. It is a frustrating situation, because if he wants to change jobs, he must convince a new employer to sponsor a new visa. Doing so can be costly for companies, since they must pay to renew any employee they wish to retain. Relying on the H-1B also carries the risk that he may not receive a renewal. H-1B visas are granted via lottery, and there are far more applicants each year than there are visas issued.
Majumdar says that current immigration policy his hurt his wife Rita’s career. Until 2015, spouses of H-1B visa holders were unable to work unless they secured their own H-1B visas. “That was frustrating for someone who had a thriving career in marketing and public relations. To come to the United States, where you have a perception of the American dream, and then be told you can’t work because your husband doesn’t have a green card,” says Majumdar.
When President Barack Obama signed an executive action in 2015 making the holders of H-4 visas — the visa for spouses of H-1B visa holders — eligible for employment, “that changed our lives,” says Majumdar. “It was something that had really put a strain on our relationship before that. There were numerous times we felt like going home, given the uncertainty. Now she finally felt like she could do what she wanted to do.”
When the bill went into effect, Rita, who is pursuing an MBA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, started doing freelance in corporate communications and social media analytics for small businesses. “Suddenly I’m not the sole breadwinner,” Majumdar says. “We can think about expanding our family.”
But it is now uncertain whether the 2015 order will stand, as the Department of Homeland Security considers a lawsuit challenging the work authorization as a threat to U.S. workers. While forcing Rita out of the workforce would obviously be of concern to her family, a revocation of the order would also have negative impact on American workers. Research shows that high-skilled immigrants like Majumdar and Rita create jobs for U.S.-born workers across the country. Researchers estimate that the H-1B visas issued to these highly skilled foreign workers — often in science and technology jobs that U.S. employers have difficulty filling — between between 2010 and 2013 alone will be responsible for creating 2,433 new jobs in Arkansas, and more than 700,000 new jobs nationwide, by 2020.
“If you look at tech companies, you’ll see they have a lot of really valuable people coming in from outside the U.S.,” says Majumdar. “Every organization is people-dependent. The quality of employees is what drives innovation, which drives product, which drives growth. Anything that compromises that jeopardizes the profitability of the organization.”
Majumdar would like to see immigration reform undertaken that “incentivizes quality people to come into this country,” he says. At present, he believes the system doesn’t adequately “look at who’s in the queue or their education or how they are contributing to their community and economy. It’s only what country of origin you are from.” To attract the best and the brightest, “giving out green cards based on educational qualifications and work experience is a must,” he says.
“H-1B jobs have to be advertised to Americans first, so we aren’t taking these jobs away from them,” Majumdar says. “But we do need reform that protects these immigrants who are highly educated and want to contribute to the economy and show them that we’re serious about helping them make their life here in the United States more permanent.”