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Article by Mohan Babu

How to live and work in the US without restrictions

Even if an employer is willing to sponsor a Green Card application, the process can drag on for years. The application is not easily transferable and if one were to switch to another employer, the clock gets reset, says Mohan Babu

A Green Card holder is allowed to work for any employer, even at McDonalds as a chef! This is the kind of flexibility that most employees desire when they contemplate acquiring a Green Card

In my last column, I had talked about H1 visas’ and the temporary work status that it bestows on the holder. H1 visa, although very useful, is designed to be extremely restrictive. Many employees who come to the US on H1 visas realise that working here comes with an element of uncertainty. People want to be in control of their life and career and want to have the flexibility to change jobs if things are not going their way. In a hire-and-fire work culture, with the cloud of layoffs looming over the tech sector, it makes sense for today’s Gold-Collar workers to seek an element of independence and flexibility. This is especially true for those working for small employers and body-shops. What does one do if one wants to live and work in the US without restrictions? The answer is: Acquire a permanent resident status (a.k.a Green Card).

A Green Card allows one to permanently live and work in the US. Except for some jobs that require ‘security clearance’ and US citizenship (for example, working for FBI), a Green Card holder is allowed to work for any employer, even at McDonalds as a chef! This is the kind of flexibility that most employees desire when contemplating acquiring a Green Card. Of course, there are other fringe benefits that come with a Green Card. One’s spouse and children acquire the same status and are free to live and work. Incidentally, spouses of H1 visa holders are not allowed to work, unless they can get an employer to sponsor their own H1 visa, which is another story altogether.

Having a Green Card has another advantage. In the US, most of us even those on H1 visas’ pay Social Security taxes. This tax is supposed to assure the payee a “pension” of a specified sum of money when they turn 59. The catch is that, to receive Social Security, one must be residing in the US or should have worked and paid taxes in the US for at least 10 years. H1 holders are not allowed to remain in the US for more than six years, so they forfeit all the benefits when they return home. Green Card holders who work in the US for at least ten years, on the other hand, are eligible for Social Security benefits.

If Green Cards bestow so many benefits, why don’t most get one, instead of continuing on H1 visa? The answer lies in the application process. A typical application involves the most archaic and cumbersome paper trails one can envisage. US Government’s Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) states, “If you want to become an immigrant based on the fact that you have a permanent employment opportunity in the United States, or if you are an employer that wants to sponsor someone for lawful permanent residency based on permanent employment in the United States, you must go through a multi-step process.” The document also found on goes on to describe the five stages:

  • First, foreign nationals and employers must determine if he/she is eligible for lawful permanent residency under one of INS’ paths to lawful permanent residency.
  • Second, most employment categories require that the U.S. employer complete a labour certification request.
  • Third, INS must approve an immigrant visa petition, (a.k.a. the I-140 stage).
  • Fourth, the State Department must give the applicant an immigrant visa number. Until recently most Indians faced a big bottleneck in acquiring a visa number since each country was given a ‘quota’ and Indians in each category were not allowed more than 7500 visa’s.
  • Fifth, if the applicant is already in the United States, he or she must apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available.

Needless to say, many employers balk at the prospect of going through this complicated processing, hoping to retain the employee after he acquires a Green Card. This is especially true in today’s job environment where employers are looking to cut costs and streamline their operations. Specialised immigration attorneys generally do the paperwork involved in the Green Card process which can cost upwards of six to eight thousand dollars. One of the most ludicrous aspects of the application is the second stage where the company’s lawyer has to petition to the labour department claiming that the employee is nothing short of a rocket scientist.

Even if an employer is willing to sponsor a Green Card application, the process can drag on for years. The application is not easily transferable and if one were to switch to another employer, the clock gets reset. Some employers, especially body-shops use the Green Card process as a lure to keep employees on a tenterhook. Given the uncertain business environment in which we live, waiting for a green card to be processed can be extremely stressful.

With a lot of lobbying from employers and H1 holders, lawmakers and Congressmen (in the US) have realised the ludicrous amount of time it takes for Green Card application to be processed. They have been working to help streamline the process.

Apart from the US, a number of other countries provide ‘permanent resident’ status to foreigners. Singapore, Canada and Australia are by far the most ‘immigrant friendly’, especially for Indians. The application process for these countries is also not as expensive and time consuming as that of the US Green Card. Canada is by far the most generous country in the world when it comes to attracting permanent residents, especially those with good education and technical backgrounds. They have a “point system” and if a person qualifies with the minimum number of points, he or she is considered. The processing time for applications is also relatively short a few months as opposed to the US Green Card that can drag on for years.

As the software world becomes more global and Indians move to various countries around the world, establish themselves, and launch new careers, they are finding opportunities where others might not even consider looking. Many credit the Indian immigrant community for the success of Silicon Valley. Even with all the bottlenecks associated with the application process, a Green Card is perhaps one of the most potent tools an individual can acquire while working to further one’s career in a foreign land.

(The information contained in this article is not legal advice and should not be substituted for legal advice.)





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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