Kal Penn to Campaign for Obama

Forget Oprah — Kal Penn is going to go out on the campaign trail for Barack Obama, starting with events in Iowa this weekend. He has a statement about it up at his Myspace page:

I first met with Senator Obama last month during a campaign stop in Los Angeles. I was pleasantly surprised: so many of his plans echo the sentiments of folks I’d met all over the country – from my conservative buddies to the liberal ones. Simply put, Senator Obama transcends the party line on issues from the environment, health care, and national security, to business, education, and diplomacy. I believe he’s someone we can all be proud of to lead our country and represent us abroad. (link)

Penn gets more specific on ethnic/Desi issues here:

Many of us have parents, cousins, or friends who immigrated from different parts of the world in search of a better life. Some of them came here under something called the H1B visa program, which right now leaves too many loopholes that shady employers can take advantage of. Senator Obama is committed to reforming this system, so that qualified, hard-working immigrants can contribute to society, free from any sense of vulnerability or danger of abuse by employers. He is also committed to strengthening our borders by removing incentives for people to enter the United States illegally. (link)

An interesting statement. From my point of view, the biggest problem with the H1B system is the confusion it creates for workers — it is a work visa, but many people think of it as an immigration visa. And people who are sponsored for Green Cards by their employers have to wait as long as 6-12 years to have their status adjusted. Some H1B workers find themselves stuck with employers for years while the USCIS sits on their applications. My biggest gripe is with the inefficiency of the USCIS, but Kal Penn is right that many H1B workers are exploited by employers, as they are often unable to change jobs for fear that their Green Card applications will be canceled.

Though I haven’t made up my mind yet, I would be strongly tempted to support any candidate who pledges to reform this part of the immigration system, not just “illegal immigration.”

Though I’ve heard that Obama has supported expanding the H1B quota temporarily, I’m not familiar with the details of his plans to reform the system overall. Does anyone know of specific positions he’s taken regarding H1Bs, or other immigration issues that tend to affect Desis especially?

UPDATE: Thanks to DizzyDesi, we have a direct quote from Obama on this exact issue after the jump:

MA: What is your position on H1B visas in general? Do you believe the number of H1B visas should be increased?

BO: Highly skilled immigrants have contributed significantly to our domestic technology industry. But we have a skills shortage, not a worker shortage. There are plenty of Americans who could be filling tech jobs given the proper training. I am committed to investing in communities and people who have not had an opportunity to work and participate in the Internet economy as anything other than consumers. Most H-1B new arrivals, for example, have earned a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent abroad (42.5%). They are not all PhDs. We can and should produce more Americans with bachelor’s degrees that lead to jobs in technology. A report of the National Science Foundation (NSF) reveals that blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans as a whole comprise more that 25% of the population but earn, as a whole, 16% of the bachelor degrees, 11% of the master’s degrees, and 5% of the doctorate degrees in science and engineering. We can do better than that and go a long way toward meeting industry’s need for skilled workers with Americans. Until we have achieved that, I will support a temporary increase in the H-1B visa program as a stopgap measure until we can reform our immigration system comprehensively. I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes improvement in our visa programs, including our legal permanent resident visa programs and temporary programs including the H-1B program, to attract some of the world’s most talented people to America. We should allow immigrants who earn their degrees in the U.S. to stay, work, and become Americans over time. As part of our comprehensive reform, we should examine our ability to replace a stopgap increase in the number of H1B visas with an increase in the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers. I will also work to ensure immigrant workers are less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers. (link)

53 thoughts on “Kal Penn to Campaign for Obama

  1. Obama gives too much of an “American jobs should stay with Americans” vibe for me to believe that he would do squat for foreign workers.

  2. The Obama campaign was calling all potential volunteers yesterday to ask whether they would be interested in going to New Hampshire or Iowa in the next week or two.

  3. Senator Obama is committed to reforming this system

    Uh-oh. There’s not a single problem that a politician has failed to worsen.

    M. Nam

  4. I think Mitt Romney has the “most sympathetic ear” to H1Bs. I think Democrats can’t do much for the “legal high-tech immigrants”.

  5. This is a great post and close to my heart. My husband was a “victim” of the H1b issue. His small company in TX under paid him and his first year with them, he did not have medical insurance at all! I am a US citizen so since we’ve been married, he is working for a bigger company, full benefits, 401k and such. We’ve been married for 2 years now and there has been no movement on his green card application. Every few months the USCIS sends out an auto mail saying that his finger prints are outdated and he needs to come in again and every time we travel…be it for our honeymoon or family in India etc. we have to re-apply for the Re-entry permit which costs $100-$150 and our time. Every few months his work permit has to keep being updated which again costs money. It is so frustrating! I mean he has been in the country for 10 years and has always had impeccable documentation throughout his stay! But every time I write a letter asking USCIS what is the hold up with his paper work…the answer is “Background investigation” Really, 2 years worth of investigation! I myself work for a government agency, so i know how their work schedule is. Mondays and Fridays are pretty much non working days and during the holidays…our whole building is a ghost town. I have tried contacting our local representative as well as the ombudsman…and nothing has happened so far. I’m beginning to think that we are doomed to spend our time and money for a few more years. The whole system just stinks. I have been on the Hillary wagon for a while but maybe I need to look into Obama’s stands and plans to clean up the USCIS. Anything to give me hope :o (

  6. Bah! I was pro Obama till I looked closely and found out about his whole protectionist rhetoric, about jobs and all that. Now I feel among the dems, Hillary is the most practical and probably good for India and desis in the long run. If the republicans cut down on their religion and neocon rhetoric and showed more sensitivity towards minorities and underprivileged, for fiscal reasons I would be more than tempted to look at them.

  7. DizzyDesi, thanks for the link. I tried Googling too, but I must have been using the wrong search terms…

    Abyzu, believe me, I feel your pain. I have family members who are right in the middle of the same exact thing. It’s infuriating.

  8. But every time I write a letter asking USCIS what is the hold up with his paper work…the answer is “Background investigation” Really, 2 years worth of investigation! I myself work for a government agency, so i know how their work schedule is. Mondays and Fridays are pretty much non working days and during the holidays…our whole building is a ghost town. I have tried contacting our local representative as well as the ombudsman…and nothing has happened so far.

    Which state are you in? Is your husband Muslim/from a Muslim majority nation/Arabic sounding name? Once you get are put in the background check category, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years. If you are a male from a Muslim majority nation, you will be the most likely candidate for a background check. Its not all Muslims all the time. I know of Non-Muslims who are being held for long background checks as well. CAIR along with the ACLU have filed lawsuits in LA/Chicago/Sacremento/NJ and they have won on the ‘background check’ issue in a few of the cases.

  9. Re: Background check.

    For people who are stuck because of background checks which have taken more than 6 months, they need to contact an immigration attorney. Filing a lawsuit is the best way to expedite the process. Until recently, all it took was a ‘writ of mandamus’ to expedite the process. Now the USCIS is actually contesting the lawsuits so it takes a longer time.

  10. I agree with Kal Penn. H-1B visa holders GC applications should be put on fast-track status. This is what bothers me about immigration bills. All the talk is about illegal immigration. There should be equal focus paid to legal immigration, including streamlining the visa application process for immigrants and non-immigrants (visa, temporary workers, etc).

  11. Al,

    We are both Hindus in the state of Maryland. Not sure if they think his name is muslim sounding. We had an attorney who filled out our paper work but it seems like his charging ridiculous amounts of money. I also hear that lawsuits can only prolong the process not just for us but others as well. So its kinda of a no win situation either way. I plan on contacting our representative again, I have my fingers crossed.

  12. Increasing the number of H1b’s is not the answer. There are many aliens who spend considerable time and money getting a bachelors degree in engineering from the US. If the number of H1b’s are increased Indian software companies will just redouble the number of applications to the US so that they can get a minimum number of workers in. I met a guy who worked in Quiznos who told me he was here on a H1b (paperwork said his uncle who owns a couple of motels needed a qualified person to run the internet service) but when he landed he was asked to work at a quiznos owned by the uncle which suited him fine since he just wanted ti immigrate. At this point any Tom,Dick or Hari who wants an H1b only needs a college degree from anywhere and a dsl connection. I think the US should remove the cap for those kids who actually get degrees from the US and impose a limit on the IT consultancies.

    If Obama can think about this clearly instead of just ‘increasing’ the number of visas, thats one point in his favor. Meanwhile i’ll stick to Hilary

  13. H-1B visa holders GC applications should be put on fast-track status. This is what bothers me about immigration bills. All the talk is about illegal immigration.

    Unfortunately most GC applications for H-1B’s already go through a supposedly fast track process (RIR in EB-2). The system is broken so badly that even this takes ages.

    The main focus of INS (or USCIS to as it it now called) is on illegal aliens. Lumping legal aliens with illegal aliens is making a bad situation much worse. Getting to respond in any meaningful way on various matters (even to get duplicates of immigration documents) has become much more difficult than it was eight or nine years back.

    To add insult to injury, the USCIS has been raising fees even as its service reaches abysmal levels.

  14. Increasing the number of H1b’s is not the answer

    That’s right. They should remove the cap altogether. If ten million desis want to come to the US legally, they should be allowed in. They will be a far greater asset to America than the illegal riffraffs.

    M. Nam

  15. I am pro globalization, see outsourcing as inevitable etc, want foreign grad students to have a path to citizenship, but I do think Silicon Valley lobbyists do pump up the labor shortfall significantly. You don’t need to be a degreed engineer to do web design or develop many software apps, but legislators don’t seem to challenge this. When criticized about the lack of minority (and I will add whites from economically depressed regions to this category)representation, SV execs will blame public schooling for not preparing kids for science & engineering university programs. This is definitely true but misses the point that at least some segments of the tech sector have entry level coding jobs that can be filled by high school grads with some specialist training.

  16. Increasing the number of H1b’s is not the answer. There are many aliens who spend considerable time and money getting a bachelors degree in engineering from the US. If the number of H1b’s are increased Indian software companies will just redouble the number of applications to the US so that they can get a minimum number of workers in. I met a guy who worked in Quiznos who told me he was here on a H1b (paperwork said his uncle who owns a couple of motels needed a qualified person to run the internet service) but when he landed he was asked to work at a quiznos owned by the uncle which suited him fine since he just wanted ti immigrate. At this point any Tom,Dick or Hari who wants an H1b only needs a college degree from anywhere and a dsl connection. I think the US should remove the cap for those kids who actually get degrees from the US and impose a limit on the IT consultancies.

    Hmm. I know lots of guys who did/do this (working in gas stations, in delis, etc.), including my cousins, but it was always temporary until they got their first or next project, and they were usually attending some sort of training classes while working.

  17. Abhi,

    Please cover the issues of ethnic Indians being tortured killed and harassed in Malaysia. The issue was taken up by the Indian parliment. indians were attacked with chemical water and biological weapons during the clamp down on protest.

    WILL SEPIA MUTINY raise a voice. or is it sepia mutiny in just name

  18. Abyzu,

    If you are a citizen, couldn’t you have gotten him a green card? If he was an H1B when you met, you could file to have his status changed, no? Or did I miss something?

    • I meant sponsored him for a green card. Certainly didn’t mean you could pick it up at the corner shop!!
  19. abyzu, i was recently talking to my friend’s husband about his green card application (he’s an indian citizen too); their lawyers told them that it should take about a year (in virginia). i should tell them about your case…

  20. Meenakshi,

    He was on H1b when we met, before that he was a student. So when we got married I sponsored him for a greencard. Thats what taking so long….what should have taken about 6-9 months (according to our INS interview) has taken about 2 years! They are just sitting on his application :o ( and they wont give us any answers as to how long it will take.

  21. what should have taken about 6-9 months (according to our INS interview) has taken about 2 years!

    I believe thats the new norm.. the only answer you get is “9/11 changed everything”!

  22. WILL SEPIA MUTINY raise a voice. or is it sepia mutiny in just name

    It is named Sepia Mutiny. Being negative towards someone you want help from may not achieve your desired result. Neither will spamming threads. Send in a tip, better yet, post stories to the news tab and if the bloggers have time, they will post.

  23. Every few months the USCIS sends out an auto mail saying that his finger prints are outdated and he needs to come in again and every time we travel…be it for our honeymoon or family in India etc. we have to re-apply for the Re-entry permit which costs $100-$150 and our time.

    I dont understand that part. How can my fingerprints be outdated? Would someone care to shed light on this subject? Now they have raised the fees for re-entry permit to $305. I applied in May this year and still havent gotten it. I was gonna go to India in October (after seven years), so much for that :( . “case status online” function is another BS.

  24. Abyzu,

    Apologies in advance if you know all this already. I am not a lawyer and this is not a legal advice – this is just based on my experience.

    I am not sure how-to-date you are on the current “trends” on the FBI name check timings and latency of communication between FBI and USCIS. I would suggest that you look around for forums where cases like yours are discussed. Nobody will give you an official estimate of “how long xyz process” take. You guessstimate that based on what is going on at present in the system.

    Empower yourselves (you and hubby) with as much information as you can about your case and about the laws only then shop for an attorney for a “specific service” and then negotiate. Immigration lawyers can be notoriously incompetent so you will have to work the lawyer you get. If the lawyer does not cooperate – fire his arse – get another one. (When dealing with government buying peace of mind can be spendy)

    You can file a FISA (may have the name wrong) request to check if your file is indeed with FBI. That way you would know where the problem is (FBI or USCIS). Inter-agency communication in can be pretty poor. If your case is stuck in USCIS then you should sue.

    You may have to become an a.r.s.e.h.o.l.e to get through this.

  25. How can my fingerprints be outdated? Would someone care to shed light on this subject?

    There are many reasons:

    1) First, that is there way of keeping track if your intent to immigrate is still there, or you something has changed.

    2) More details here:

    The USCIS finger print notices will contain a code number, which represents what information is to be collected:

               Code 1: 10 fingerprints
               Code 2: Thumb finger print, photo and signature
               Code 3: 10 fingerprints, photo and signature (code 1 + code 2)
    

    Do not miss the fingerprint appointment. If you can’t make it, call the phone number in the notice to reschedule. If you didn’t receive the notice and got a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), respond before the deadline to explain your situation. Sometimes you may want to do the fingerprints early, and most service centers will allow walk-in if they are not busy. But make sure you bring the notice, which will be stamped and given back to you as a receipt.

    The USCIS may request a second or third fingerprint appointment during the I485 process. The reason is that fingerprint results do expire, and USCIS still lose or misplace files. It is not uncommon for an applicant to do a code 3 fingerprint check, then just a few months later asked to do another one. Sometimes the last fingerprint check is mainly for supplying a digital photo in order to produce the green card; unfortunately this is not always the case.

    NB: I think they only save the results, and so once I485 is approved, one is asked to do a fingerprint again. It is different, at that time they do not use all the fingers of both hands.

  26. From my point of view, the biggest problem with the H1B system is the confusion it creates for workers as it is a work visa, but many people think of it as an immigration visa.

    This doesn’t have a bearing on the Obama discussion, but I believe the above statement is not correct. My understanding is that the H-1B is a ‘dual intent’ visa that specifically allows the holder to be a non-immigrant but to also have the intent to immigrate via adjustment of status.

  27. This doesn’t have a bearing on the Obama discussion, but I believe the above statement is not correct. My understanding is that the H-1B is a ‘dual intent’ visa that specifically allows the holder to be a non-immigrant but to also have the intent to immigrate via adjustment of status.

    That’s right. The worst thing is the withholding of social security and medicare taxes from the pay checks with no clear idea on whether the govt. intends to absorb the H1Bs as permanent residents / citizens later.

  28. My understanding is that the H-1B is a ‘dual intent’ visa that specifically allows the holder to be a non-immigrant but to also have the intent to immigrate via adjustment of status.

    As I understand it, for the USCIS the H-1B is technically a “non immigrant visa” — see this. It does have the adjustment of status mechanism (which Business visas don’t have), but that is not automatic.

    I forgot to mention my earlier post on H-1Bs: here. Some good discussion in the comments…

  29. That’s right. The worst thing is the withholding of social security and medicare taxes from the pay checks with no clear idea on whether the govt. intends to absorb the H1Bs as permanent residents / citizens later.

    No the worst thing, but a big issue.

    Didn’t NASSCOM protest that a couple of years ago, saying Social Security and Medicare not be withheld from the pay checks of workers on a visa?

  30. Jeet,

    If your file during I485 stage has not moved forward for whatever reason, they will ask for finger printing of all ten fingers again after X months. Fingerprinting all ten fingers is different from final fingerprint for display at your green card. It is not uncommon to get finger printed by USCIS for 3-4 times, as opposed to 2 times.

    Why? Only USCIS knows for sure.

  31. We are both Hindus in the state of Maryland. Not sure if they think his name is muslim sounding. We had an attorney who filled out our paper work but it seems like his charging ridiculous amounts of money. I also hear that lawsuits can only prolong the process not just for us but others as well.

    Where did you hear that? I dont think thats the case. The lawsuit might not expedite the process but it will not lead to delay. Talk to a few attorneys in Maryland/DC and ask them if they have had any success in expediting the ‘background check’. Ask them for the names of the people they have helped and then call up the people and confirm.

  32. It is not uncommon to get finger printed by USCIS for 3-4 times, as opposed to 2 times. Why? Only USCIS knows for sure.

    Could it because the finger-print files can be kept on record only for a specific number of months and have to be destroyed if the application hasn’t moved forward, hence requiring re-finger-printing? I’m just guessing here.

  33. There is an excellent website (www.murthy.com) where you can get info on all things immigration-related, and it’s run by a desi attorney Shiela Murthy. No, I am not related to her in any way, I am not her client and this is not spam.

    The reason I am mentioning this is the confusion created by some of the posts regarding H1B visas. For instance, #30, Gruhasthu is correct that H-1Bs are “dual-intent” visas even though they are non-immigrant. Dual intent as defined by section 214(b) really means that the person does not need to establish ties to home country, or intent to return when they apply for the visa. When you apply for a B1/B2 or an F1 visa, you will have to answer questions relating to home country ties, but not when you apply for a H1B or L1 visa. Hope this helps.

  34. He [Obama] advocates using corn-based ethanol as a bridge for cellulosic ethanol (as an alternative fuel source)

    Thats a bummer. Corn-based ethanol is only going to replace one problem with a worse one!

  35. I believe he said Corn-based only as a bridge to cellulosic! Meaning it’s only used for a short time until grass/woodchip/etc based ethanol. :) It’s actually a decent plan; i remember reading about it on Obama’s website

  36. When in Iowa, every candidate supports corn, corn pants, corn pencils, brake fluid using corn, paper made out of corn, corn-based organ transplants, etc.

  37. My sister was approached several times over her past 4 trips to India (spanning the past decade) with offers of cash in return for a fake marriage, for visa purposes only.

    They advocates of such said all she needed to do was prove that so and so was her legal husband and from there, there would be no obligations and divorce would be granted upon arrival in USA. Has anyone heard anything about this and does it work? They tried to make her think it was quite an easy surefire process.

  38. The worst thing is the withholding of social security and medicare taxes from the pay checks with no clear idea on whether the govt. intends to absorb the H1Bs as permanent residents / citizens later.

    Totally sucks – too many $$ still stuck with the SSA with no chance of ever recovering it. In Oz for those on a work visa if you are leaving the country with no intention of coming back – you get your Social security back ( Superannuation) back with interest. And for taxes there is a Living Away from Home Allowance that reduces tax liability.

    That’s right. They should remove the cap altogether. If ten million desis want to come to the US legally, they should be allowed in. They will be a far greater asset to America than the illegal riffraffs.

    No please dont do that. Oz is gaining heaps of people who in an earlier era would have gone to the USA.

  39. No please dont do that. Oz is gaining heaps of people who in an earlier era would have gone to the USA.

    so does this mean I can finally go back to OZ and get a phat job with chuff perqs? I thought the insurance industry over there was too small to support the kind of job market I can rely on over here in the states.

  40. In Oz for those on a work visa if you are leaving the country with no intention of coming back – you get your Social security back ( Superannuation) back with interest.

    Don’t know if superannuation (super) and social security can be compared. Super is more like a private retirement plan. Its in your name all the time, you can make contributions, the govt makes co-contribution till some income level. You can change the fund manager (exit fees apply), you can have more than one fund, you can have a self managed fund, you have a choice how your super is invested. You can pick a low risk cash, balanced, growth and a few higher risk options. Plus all the tax advantages of super – lower tax rate of 15% and none for withdrawals after the age of 60 makes it great investment. If you leave the country with no intention of coming back you get all the super in your name (contributions + investment returns) without being subject to the tax.

    You can’t do any of that with social security. Social security mainly invests in assets backed by US Government. A super fund can invest in anything it wants from listed trusts, to international shares, to oz equity, to hedge funds, to CMOs. It just puts different categories and advises you on the risk and you choose how much risk you want to take.

  41. I thought the insurance industry over there was too small to support the kind of job market I can rely on over here in the states.

    If Kevin Rudd has his way – we will soon be selling Latin American real estate to Chinese investors ;) – there is a decent economy but you wont get the big bucks that you get in the USA although given the way the USD is moving who knows.

  42. Totally sucks – too many $$ still stuck with the SSA with no chance of ever recovering it. In Oz for those on a work visa if you are leaving the country with no intention of coming back – you get your Social security back ( Superannuation) back with interest. And for taxes there is a Living Away from Home Allowance that reduces tax liability.

    that sounds cool..

  43. Super is more like a private retirement plan. Its in your name all the time, you can make contributions, the govt makes co-contribution till some income level. You can change the fund manager (exit fees apply), you can have more than one fund, you can have a self managed fund, you have a choice how your super is invested. You can pick a low risk cash, balanced, growth and a few higher risk options. Plus all the tax advantages of super – lower tax rate of 15% and none for withdrawals after the age of 60 makes it great investment.

    Is that what Bush was trying to do to SS?

  44. that sounds cool..

    ponniyan – seriously mate consider Oz unless you are stuck to the USA for personal reasons. You can get an Oz PR (Green Card) sitting in the US in about a year or so and then in 4years you can get a ‘white passport’. It used to be 2 years between PR and citizenship. Life is more than running after the INS and Dept of Labor. If you are not in the $300K plus bracket it is probably more prudent to move to Oz. If you are a minimum wage worker then Oz is way better than the US.

    Don’t know if superannuation (super) and social security can be compared. Super is more like a private retirement plan.

    Social Security is for a pension unlike superannuation which is a defined contribution scheme. Either ways it converts current income to deferred income. At least in the case of Super one has the option of taking it back when you leave the country – Social Security is a black hole. Not sure how many follow oz politics but we kicked out one government for introducing an american style hire and fire system.

  45. I assume many readers are aware to what is brewing in the economy. e.g. for a rather dire view see Calculatedrisk There are dots that connect the health economy to the H1B programs and green card processing. (This is not part of the economic woes but telling all the same Immigration Contractor Trims Wages) I think the issue of an H1B program and path to GC status is going to be mute maybe by end of next year. For disclosure purposes, I am a H1B myself, second 6 years. Never applied for GC, but have applied on and off for the GC Lotto.