TCS Daily

Overqualified Immigrant

By Ilya Shapiro - April 21, 2006 12:00 AM

If the federal government ever gets its act together and passes a much-needed immigration reform, I'm giving up my legal career and taking up a profession that will actually allow me to become a U.S. citizen. Like gardening. Or construction. Or anything else that counts as "unskilled."

And maybe I'll also fly to Cancun for some sun-and-fun. And come back illegally. (I'm tan and speak fluent Spanish; think I could pass?) Or I'll have a Miami friend take me out on a boat -- so I can come back on a raft.

Because I sure ain't gonna get a green card the way I'm going: English-speaking, highly educated, law-abiding, and patriotic. I'm precisely the type of person Uncle Sam would never dream of inviting to be a permanent resident. Unless I got married -- which'll happen sooner or later, right?

You see, as I follow the overheated rhetoric about guest-workers and homeland security, legal versus illegal immigrants, and the needs of American business and American labor, I can't help but smile and shake my head. And then go home and cry.

Because no matter how hard I work, how good I am at my job (my day job or this writing thing), how brilliant (and sincere) a personal statement I write espousing my love for this country, its people and values, I will never be able to achieve that which is being offered to certain classes of "undocumented" aliens under any of the proposals being batted around Congressional water coolers. That is, every plan under consideration -- save the "enforcement only" ones that don't even attempt to deal with the reality of 12 million illegal aliens -- contains a measure that allows unskilled foreign workers to be put "on the path to citizenship." This path is simply unavailable to skilled workers like me.

I'm not trying to be cute here: from President Bush to Kennedy-McCain to Kyl-Cornyn, every immigration policy proposal would allow a certain number of unskilled laborers to obtain legitimate work visas for a number of years. As one or two terms of such a visa run out, those who are still gainfully employed would be able to apply to convert their work visas into permanent resident (green card) status -- holders of which can apply for citizenship five years later.

This seems to me a perfectly reasonable reform -- even if you don't grant any amnesty whatsoever for existing illegals; and if these visas are only available to people applying from outside the United States -- there should be some mechanism for importing workers for jobs that can't be filled by Americans at prices Americans employers want to pay (because of limits to what American consumers want to pay). And if these "guest-workers" prove themselves to be good citizens, they should be able to become, well, citizens.

The problem for me -- and for the mere tens of thousands of professionals like me -- is that our visas don't work that way. Under an H1-B -- of which only 55,000 new ones are statutorily authorized for each year -- a highly skilled individual (like a software engineer from Bangalore) can work for a particular American employer for six years (two three-year periods). At the end of that time, unless the employer is willing to begin the arduous process of green card sponsorship and can convince the Labor Department that no American possesses even the minimal qualifications for that job -- it is irrelevant if that hypothetical American is far less qualified than the non-American -- the foreign professional has to leave the country. No exceptions.

For those of us who are that special brand of foreign professionals known as Canadians, there's also the option of a TN (NAFTA-created) visa. (A TN differs from an H1-B only in that it lasts one year instead of three, and can theoretically be renewed an infinite number of times instead of once.) Either way, there is no "path to citizenship" -- and thus, for me, no way to fulfill the higher purpose that has long been my dream: the service of my adopted country.

Despite living here my entire adult life and career, despite my fancy degrees, I cannot work in the State or Defense Departments, in the challenging and critical Justice Department jobs for which I am otherwise qualified, in Executive Office positions, or in any other legal or policy-making posts for which this country has trained me. I cannot even "put my money where my mouth is" (in terms of my support of our engagement in Iraq) by serving in the military JAG Corps -- or even enlisting as a simple infantryman.

Nothing in any proposed immigration reform changes any of this.

Which is why my resolution to come in on the ground floor of the landscaping industry is only partially in jest. After all, America is worth spending time on your knees in the dirt for. But, really, why have such perverse incentives in the first place?

Ilya Shapiro, whose parents took a wrong turn at the St. Lawrence Seaway when immigrating from the Soviet Union, is a Washington lawyer who writes "Dispatches from Purple America."



Uncle Sam WANTS you!
"I cannot even 'put my money where my mouth is' (in terms of my support of our engagement in Iraq) by serving in the military JAG Corps -- or even enlisting as a simple infantryman."

Enlist: Reserve Requirements To Join, 2006

To enlist in the Army Reserve you must be:
* Between the ages of 17–39
* A U.S. citizen or REGISTERED ALIEN -- U.S. Citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 "Green Card") may join the U.S. Military
* Healthy and in good physical condition
* In good moral standing

...NON-CITIZENS MAY ENLIST, but cannot reenlist (extend their enlistment beyond their first term of service) unless they become naturalized U.S. citizens. However, AFTER THREE YEARS OF SERVICE, ADDITIONAL RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS FOR CITIZENSHIP CAN BE WAIVED. The Military does not assist in immigration naturalization process. For enlistment purposes, the United States includes Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, The Northern Marianas Islands, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. Citizens of certain countries may require a waiver to enlist. These include citizens of countries considered hostile to the interests of the United States. For more specific information on the current list of hostile countries, or for other specific questions, Contact An Advisor.


Naturalization Information for Military Personnel, March 22, 2006

If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship under special provisions provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Generally, service in the U.S. Armed Forces means service in one of the following branches:

* Army,
* Navy,
* Marine Corps,
* Air Force,
* Coast Guard,
* Certain Reserve components of the National Guard, and
* Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve

Recent changes in the relevant sections of the INA (Sections 328 and 329) make it easier for qualified military personnel to become U.S. citizens if they choose to file a naturalization application...

Don't know if that would work
I don't think people that come in to the US under the system he is in get a green card of any kind. If not then they are not considered "Permanent Resident Aliens".

Work Visa holders fall under a differant plan.

He COULD go back and request a normal immigration Visa, but then he would have to wait like eveybody else until it was aproved and would be unable to keep his current job.

Overqualified Immigrant
Mr. Shapiro expresses puzzlement at the fact that lawyers have a very difficult route to legal status, but illegal Mexicans have no trouble getting in, getting work, and ultimately being forgiven their transgressions.
The reason is very simple: The laws are written by lawyers, and lawyers want low cost services to themselves, not wage lowering competition.

Get married already.
I'm Canadian too. I worked in the US for a number of years on TN visas. While their I knew several people who got married for "convenience" (to get green cards). It isn't strictly legal, but you still have to go through all the normal security and background checks to get a green card after you are married so it is hard to see how the US is harmed, especially in your case.

Or you could get married "for real". Just be thankful you aren't gay. Then you'd really be in a pickle.

No Subject
I came to this country to attend graduate school in 1999. Prior to coming here I passed a couple of English exams. Graduated in 2001 and have been working for American companies since. I still can't find a path to be a Permanent Resident on my own. Always am at the mercy of my immigration lawyer or my HR who has no clue about immigration.

My visa tern of 6 years ends soon and all I can think of is migrating to Canada or Australia were I can migrate on my own (no lawyers required), start my own business and be permanent resident in 1 year with my skills.

I can't take the fact that in a couple of years, I have to renew my drivers license every year just because I don't have my Greencard and invariably stand in a line for foreigners where I likely will be the only guy with all documents and speak English!

Not Fair
I came to this country to attend graduate school in 1999. Prior to coming here I passed a couple of English exams. Graduated in 2001 and have been working for American companies since. I still can't find a path to be a Permanent Resident on my own. Always am at the mercy of my immigration lawyer or my HR who has no clue about immigration.

My visa tern of 6 years ends soon and all I can think of is migrating to Canada or Australia were I can migrate on my own (no lawyers required), start my own business and be permanent resident in 1 year with my skills.

I can't take the fact that in a couple of years, I have to renew my drivers license every year just because I don't have my Greencard and invariably stand in a line for foreigners where I likely will be the only guy with all documents and speak English!

Sure it would
All he needs to be is a registered alien to be eligible for the Reserves.

Gardening? Not me. Too much travel involved to become a citizen. I'm going to open up schools to teach Spanish and Arabic to Americans who speak neither or just one. I figure I can get rich that way and move to Bora Bora when I retire --- although Bora Bora's immigration policies might be tougher and make sense. Then I can watch the Spanish-speaking immigrants and the Arabic-speaking immigrants (now new citizens) fight it out amongst themselves as to which will prevail, since neither seems to want to learn English.

Yep! No gardening for me. (I have a "black thumb" anyway.) I'm going to where the real money is!!

Oh yeah --- and I hope you're not into immigration law. The new "reforms" will make that a poor field to be in.

Welcome To Burachracy Land!
May you gain the insight of our enlightened mentor, Rube Goldberg, to fully understand the thought processing that runs rampant in every state legislature, and in particular, Washington, D.C.

If any of this nonsense goes through, I propose that we seek amnesty from every traffic violation have committed. Along with the amnesty, we should receive compensation for all fines and increases in auto insurance that we have paid. Furthermore, all fines and penalties shall be accompanied by the appropriate payment of accrued interest from the date of the levied charges. The interest rate to be tied to U.S. Treasury with a maturity of five years, adjusted on a daily basis. After all, if we are going to give illegal aliens all that is proposed, shouldn't we at least give the citizens something equal or better?

I do not know why Congress acts in the strange manner that it does. Maybe it is the famous Black Bean Soup.

Happy Trails.

Go Home
Immigration has always been about the unskilled, so what do you expect? Immigrants in the past had to swear that they were not taking the job of any American. So, enjoy your stay, then leave.

It has always been so.
My ancestors immigrated before the Revolution. When they crossed the Appalachians Mountains, the Shawnee Indians tried to make them feel unwelcome.

There has always been an "us against them attitude", except in the case of Cain and Able it was just "him against me".

Becoming an American
At the start of the Iraq invasion much was made of a program offering fast track citizenship to any non-immigrant non-citizen who volunteered to serve in our armed services. In fact if my memory does not fail me, our first battlefield fatality in March,, 2003 was a young Guatemalan who took advantage of this program.

He was posthumously granted citizenship.

Oddly, and without any trace of irony, the United States has declared any non-Afghan serving in the Afghan resistance to be a foreign agitator and an illegal combatant. I guess what's sauce for the goose is NOT sauce for the gander.

Mesadge from bucharsicky land
202-- The point to any amnesty program being contemplated is not to award amnesty for any crimes other than the presence of foreign nationals on our soil. It allows them a means to register and formalize a situation that has been tolerated informally for many years, so that economic interests favored by lawmakers can have access to a source of cheap, compliant labor. Their supposed illegality is a convenience to their employers.

We and they would both be well served by a law that allowed some means for people already employed in our economy to come within our legal system, enjoying some of the rights and responsibilities you and I enjoy as a matter of birth.

Naturally such a program should not be so wide open that two or three billion of the world's current unemployed find their way to these shores seeking lanscaping jobs. Neither should we go to the other extreme and find all twelve million "illegals" in order to ship them home.

All most politicians are advocating is some new system that does not enshrine a ridiculous premise-- that a large proportion of our work force is by definition illegal. The details of such a plan are all open for discussion.

I personally favor the Senate bill that was recently voted down.

Opportunity knocks
Any time Mr Shapiro wants to quit his day job (after all, how well can TCS pay for his prose?) he can always find work as a house painter.

Some years ago I was painting a house on Capitol Hill. On a ladder at the adjacent address was another painter, who turned out to have been a math professor at American University. He told me he made more money during his three summer months painting than during the nine winter months professorizing.

Don't knock it til you've tried it.

I must have missed the section about the United States being obligated to grant citizenship to anyone that sneaks across the border. Maybe it's listed in the rules for 'Red Rover'.

Logic does not apply, sort of
I understand the problem all too well. I have a computer scientist with over 15 years of experience, and yes I am a Canuck. I do find it odd that the Senate would chose to prioritize unskilled labour over skilled. The future of this country is not in painting houses or plucking chickens in a factory. Low skilled labour is not a basis on which the US can compete. This will drive the US deeper into a protectionist economic policy which unfortunately haralds a economic retreat and decline. With a very low grad rate in high tech from American Universities (many of which are foreigners studying in the US) it makes little sense. However if you look at the politics, and the potential gain or loss of a large voting block, it makes a bit more sense. If you assume the intent of the politicans is to protect the long term interests of the US then you would reach a very different conclusion than if you assumed the politicians are more interested in protecting the long term positions of themselves and their parties as they try to navigate the polls.

Saw you on Fox this morning
Ilya, just saw you on Fox news this morning and feel your pain...I urge you to use your forum and contacts to raise the issue into the light of day and perhaps create a ground swell of logic that just may make a difference. I'll volunteer time to help you as I'm sure at least a million others would....

I'm a "former" canuck and have been here (legally) for 8 years under the various visas and now under the TN with no path to becoming an American citizen. I am a US resident according to the IRS so that I can pay my taxes but a non-resident alien according to immigration... sounds like having the cake and eating it too... I gladly pay into the US system, I've never broken the law, I speak the language and I gainfully contribute in my community and proudly educate American-haters that this country gets a bad rap from those that have not lived here. I am educated and also feel that I should join the local landscape crew...
To those that say that the US has no obligation to accept us - no argument there - however immigration reform is a hot topic and I am assuming that no one will argue that there is vast room for improvement that can benefit the US economy, its national security and its trending demographics...
Ilya, run with it - many will be behind you!

I am in the same situation
All this is very depressing. I myself was invited to the US by an American company 7 years ago. The company promised to sponsor me for a green card so I deided to bring my family here.

I did not crawl under the fence in fact I did not brake any rule despite some of those rules seem to be unfair. For example my children and my spouse have even not tried to work as "it is against the law". And guess what. in 2001 hundreds of thousand of illegal immigrants were granted amnesty and somehow it happened that they were put into the same where legal immigrants were waiting thus throwing all legals including me years and years back.

What is happening in the Department of Labor now is an example of utter injustice and disrespect. One can get his application processed in a month another can wait for 6 years. And this is not because of different priorities, it is because of the inability to organize the process.

To: timber
A billion ants is still just an ant farm.

I am in same immigration boat, which never seems to be reaching GC shores. Came on H1-B seven years ago, worked hard, paid taxes and have been living by-the-rules. But with current retrogression and backlogs, if I am lucky, GC might come in 10-12 years.

Joined the group immigration voice. A non-profit org formed by guys like me (stuck in GC process). They are trying to get legislative changes made to broken immigration system.

To: 202
Rainbows and gumdrops, and marshmellow pie. If you have something to respond to I would suggest a more direct response may be clearer for everyone.

Legal Immigration First!!!
Illegal Immigration is Back in Spotlight

Why there is so much help, attention, media for illegal immigration. What about Legal Immigrants? Professional people hired by US companies to work in this country under working VISAS legally?

How can the immigration process be fair for the legal H1B-visa workers?

What is happening with the applications for Alien Employment Certification of Permanent Employment in the United States for legal Immigrants?

It is ridicules that the Department of Labor Certification (Backlog Center in Dallas and Philadelphia) takes over FOUR years to approve or deny an application for an Employment Certification. What kind of people do work in these institutions? Who is responsible for the

Is it fair for professional people working for top US companies and government agencies to invest their life and careers in this country without having a chance to become a US citizen? If they do have the opportunity to become a US citizen, the process takes a lifetime.

Why illegal immigration gets all the attention? What about legal Foreign Professional workers hired to work in this country?

The immigration reform actions seems only applying to illegal immigrants and is back in the spotlight. Please help! Do you duty and start sending Fax to Demand Improved Performance at BEC and improve the immigration process for Legal Immigrants. This fax campaign hopefully will bring attention to the policymakers.

TCS Daily Archives