Opinion | Susan Knopf: I just want to work | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: I just want to work

My friend Saurabh Mahajan expects to wait 17 years to get a green card. He is working in Denver under an H-1B visa for a top-tier engineering firm. In two weeks, he will mark six months of employment, and his employer can begin his application for a green card.

Mahajan says his application will likely require a year and half to get to the front of line before he waits 15 more years for the green card. Then he can apply for citizenship.

Mahajan objects most to the fact that he pays taxes that exceed the amount most Americans earn in a year. He says he’s doing his part. He’s paying his fair share. He wonders why we don’t make it easier for him to become a citizen of our country?

Mahajan is lucky. He’s got papers. His employer pays his fees and for the attorney who shepherds his application. If he changes jobs, then the process starts again from the beginning.

His visa limits him. He can only work in his “specialized” field. He can’t start a business. He can’t change careers.

You may have heard there is a contraction in the IT marketplace. Some Indians living and working in the U.S. are worried they may not find new jobs in the 60 days required to maintain their visas. If that isn’t enough pressure, the 60-day grace period is not automatic. The visa holder has to apply to get it, and it may not be granted. Our country reviews each application on a case-by-case basis. We wonder why the immigration system is backed up!

Many of our local immigrants don’t have papers. Chiques is 21 years old and she’s lived in Summit County about half of her life. She says her parents brought her here when she was 12 years old. She says her family traveled here by bus on a valid tourism visa.

Chiques says the adjustment was difficult. She says kids at school picked on her. She says she used to cry in her bed at night and ask to go back home to Mexico.

Her family returned to Chihuahua, Mexico, to celebrate her quinceañera. That’s a big celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday. Think of a bat mitzvah or a fabulous sweet sixteen party.

After a year, they came back to Summit County on another tourism visa. She lost high school credit each time. Chiques says her Summit County transcript was never received in Mexico, and then her Mexican transcript was not received at Summit High. 

She says she graduated. But now she can not pursue her dream. Chiques would love to teach school. Teaching is a tradition in her family. In Mexico, her mother was a preschool teacher; here she is a housekeeper.

She says, in Mexico, her father was a certified public accountant, a college graduate. He makes a better living installing floors in the U.S.

None of them have legal working papers. They are very nice working people. I’ve known them for several years.

When Chiques was taking classes at Colorado Mountain College to get her teaching credentials, she had to sign up online to get her fingerprints taken. The online form required a social security number. She has an individual taxpayer number. The form would not accept her number. A friend of hers had the same problem. They both dropped out of school.

We have a shortage of teachers. Policies that keep people out of the marketplace hurt our kids, and our community.

In my last column, I shared a Forbes article that featured data from an award-winning book “Streets of Gold: The Untold Story of Immigrant Success” by Stanford University economics professor Ran Abramitzky and Princeton University economics professor Leah Boustan.

After extensive research, they concluded today’s immigrants catch up, they do as well as European immigrants of the past, they don’t take our jobs and they make big contributions to our economy. The Forbes senior contributor wrote: “Critics of immigration have been wrong for 100 years.”

Maybe it’s time we get it right. Let’s demand immigration reform. Let’s create a system that works. Let’s put more people in the workforce, to help our country succeed.

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