Visa woes hinder Beaverton brothers from becoming doctors
This is a continuing tale of two brothers, born in India but raised in Bethany for the past decade.
Ravi and Girijesh Thodupunuri came to the United States legally in 2008 with their father — who holds an employment-related immigrant visa — and their mother. They came from Hyderabad, a major technology center in southern India.
Ravi, then age 11, started seventh grade at Stoller Middle School. Girijesh, then 8, third grade at Findley Elementary School. They both graduated from Westview High School, and went on to Portland State University.
Both aspire to become doctors.
"Everything was going awesome," Ravi says. "We were getting used to the culture, making friends in a new place and new country. It took a couple of years, but going to school here has helped a lot — and outside activities have helped."
But just as Ravi turned 21 last summer and earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Portland State, "we got a big shock."
He became legally independent of his father, whose visa (H-1B) allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers based on their specialties. A related visa (H-4) admits the spouse and minor children of such workers into the United States.
"I will not be able to stay with his visa," Ravi said. "I will not be able to get the benefits he might get in the future, such as a green card (for permanent residency) or citizenship."
Ravi first spoke about his situation in March 2018 at a public forum at the Hillsboro Public Library, just as the plight of immigrants with employment-related visas was starting to draw public attention.
For Girijesh, who just completed his first year at Portland State, a similar fate could befell him when he turns 21.
But a bill that passed the U.S. House a month ago, and is pending in the U.S. Senate, could reshape his future.
Under HR 1044, the cap on employment-related immigrant visas would be lifted — and the annual limit on family-based immigrant visas would increase from 7% to 15% per country. The second provision is important to immigrants from India, because they account for an estimated 70% of the visa backlog, according to federal statistics.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, nearly 75% of more than 400,000 H-1B visa holders in 2018 came from India. Most work in computer jobs. Without legislation, some estimates peg the waiting time as long as 70 years for Indian immigrants to obtain permanent residency status.
"There is a chance (under the bill) that people who have lived here 10 years can get a green card with help from the government," Girijesh said. "If the cap on green cards comes off, there's a chance we can get one."
Organizers of the 2018 forum in Hillsboro estimated that this issue affects 3,000 in Oregon — most of them residents of Beaverton and nearby unincorporated communities — and 300,000 nationally.
India has the biggest backlog, followed by China and the Philippines, although their shares are relatively small.
Employment-related visa holders from other countries obtain their permanent residency cards quickly. Ravi said there are relatively few immigrants from those countries and the annual limits are not reached. (Unused slots are not transferable.)
"This is not a solution, but it is a start to a solution," Ravi said. "We should look at solutions that protect the children of visa holders."
Different, yet similar
The situation Ravi and Girijesh find themselves in differs from "dreamers," the name given to those young people brought to the United States illegally as children.
A program begun under President Barack Obama in 2012 shields them from deportation and allows them to attend school or work. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but a court blocked his 2017 action and let it continue. About 700,000 are enrolled in that program; nearly 80% are from Mexico.
Ravi said there are others in their situation who came to the United States legally on their parents' visas.
"We are the kids who are beginning to experience this," he said. "As the days go on, you'll be seeing a lot more like us."
A similar bill languished in the House last year. But after Democrats won a majority in the 2018 elections, HR 1044 moved through the House on a 365-65 vote July 10.
Its fate is uncertain in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stalled any legislation likely to divide the Republicans who control that chamber.
But in addition to nearly every Democrat in the House, among them all four from Oregon, two-thirds of Republicans — including Greg Walden of Oregon — voted for the bill. (In one of those strange political twists, two of the four Democratic congresswomen singled out by Trump because of their skin color voted against the bill — and their opposition drew praise from far-right commentator Ann Coulter.)
In another sense, however, Ravi and Girijesh are dreamers in their goal of becoming doctors.
Ravi, with help from Portland State advisers, is working on an F1 visa that would allow him to stay in the United States as an international student. It's an odd position for someone who went to Beaverton public schools and Portland State University for the past decade.
"If the process is not approved, I'd have to go back to India, despite all the years I have lived here," he said. "I call this place my home. So it was a big shock to me that there was a chance I'd be going back to India.
"I do not think kids deserve this if they come here at such an early age. It would be different if you were 20. There's no place else we can call home other than Oregon, where we developed friendships."
Ravi said, however, that an F1 visa would give him only a slim chance of entering medical school in the United States because so few international students are accepted.
Girijesh says he has similar fears.
"I would have to go back to India, but that is not my home," he said. "I consider this my home, so it would be like getting kicked out of my own country."
Ravi said some families might choose to return to India temporarily — or move to Canada — to avoid the pitfalls of separation.
Both are doing volunteer work, Girijesh at Oregon Health & Science University, Ravi at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland. They would prefer paid internships, which they say have more credibility with potential employers and medical schools.
"We do not get the real experience that people with internships get," Girijesh said.
But Ravi said volunteering is a way to reach their shared goal.
"Instead of giving up, we are looking at different aspects of how we can get experience," he said. "If we did have green cards, we would have better learning and work experiences — and a different way of looking at the world."
Like Ravi, Girijesh is majoring in biology. Ravi said he has high hopes for his brother.
"His going to med school here will be one of the best benefits that could ever happen."
"It gets harder as the days and years go on. But for me, I am still hoping. I do not want to give up on my dream of becoming a doctor and serving the country I love — the United States."
"But for this guy, if everything goes well, he will be able to apply for med schools here — and he will be a good student."
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