Green Card: Proposed Merit System, a Boon for Indians Studying in American Universities

One of the most greatly desired documents for Indians in America are the permanent residency permits known as green cards. Till now the process of getting one has been long, difficult and chancy. “The process is a nightmare,” said Anju Singh, a researcher with the National Institutes of Health, who was born in India and studied and worked in the U.S. for nearly a decade before she pursued the coveted green card. But, if Republican lawmakers have their way, that is about to change.

This is good news for all those in the long wait for the magic card – and it is especially good news for Indian students who have graduated (or are going to graduate) from American universities. Until 2013, green cards were allotted through a lottery system to 50,000 randomly selected applicants. The problem that Republican lawmakers had with the lottery system was that it did not distinguish between skilled and unskilled immigrants. They hope therefore, to replace it by a merit system in 2017. The new points system that they propose awards points largely according to applicants’ qualifications and so, it is designed to favor highly skilled applicants – which means that it will be an advantage for the hundreds of Indian students who graduate from American universities every year. So, if you are one of the many Indian faces on a US university campus, once the law goes through, you may not need to persuade an American employer to sponsor you for a green card. There is a strong chance that you will be able to get one on your own merit. Here’s how the proposed system will work. In the new system, an immigrant applicant can get a theoretical maximum of 100 points on the basis of the following ten criteria.

  1. University Education:
    1. Bachelor’s degree – 5 points
    2. Master’s degree – 10 points
    3. Doctorate – 15 points
  2. English language proficiency: TOEFL score of 80 or more – 10 points
  3. Profession – criterion 1: your occupation is related to your degree: 8-10 points
  4. Profession – criterion 2: you are a programmer, computer scientist or software developer – 10 points
  5. Profession – criterion 3: you are a contractor employing at least two people: 10 points
  6. Work Experience: each year – 0-3 points (depending on your employment level; max 20 points)
  7. Age – you are:
    1. 25 and under – 8 points
    2. 25-32 year old – 6 points
    3. 33-37 years – 4 points
    4. 38 and above – 0 points
  8. Community service (if you can prove “civic involvement”) – 5 points
  9. Relationship to US Citizens:
    1. You are a sibling of a US citizens – 10 points
    2. You are married child (age 31 or older) of US citizens – 10 points.
  10. Citizenship: you come from a country with low immigration rates – 5 points (so, no points for Indians, Mexicans or Chinese!)

This means that Indian students pursuing master’s degrees in the States will get 28 points straight off (Master’s degree – 10 points, TOEFL score over 80 – 10 points and age under 25 – 8 points). Those working in a profession related to their degree will get another 8 points, bringing their score to 36. If you work as a programmer, computer scientist or software developer, that gives you another 10 points to make your score 46. With a doctorate (5 points) your score comes very close to the halfway mark at around 49 points (because you lose 2 points for being over 25). But you can make up for that with a couple of years of work experience. So, after 2017, your best chances of getting a green card are if you are a computer scientist, software developer or programmer, with a PhD from an American university with a year or two of work experience – you already have 50% of the maximum total. But even master’s degree holders can get 38 points if they have 2 years of work experience in the field they qualified for. This gives the average Indian student in America a huge advantage over other applicants.

The minimum score required to get a green card is not yet known. However, if your score is in the top 60,000, you are likely to get one. (Another block of 60,000 green cards is being kept for lower skilled labor such as construction workers.) In addition to the points system, the Senate proposal provides quota-free green cards for extraordinarily qualified researchers, scientists and graduates of US universities. Over the years the number of green cards awarded annually could rise to 250,000. What remains now, is for the bill to be passed into law. It comes before President Obama this summer. If he passes it, the system will come into force by 2017. By the time that happens, most of you reading this article will pass out from your chosen American universities and if you are lucky, all the present difficulties in getting a green card may become a thing of the past or at least will have been significantly diminished. Keep your fingers crossed!