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 â€“ 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 bachelorâ€™s degree or its equivalent abroad (42.5%). They are not all PhDs. We can and should produce more Americans with bachelorâ€™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 masterâ€™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 industryâ€™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 worldâ€™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)