Things are especially difficult for those with young children who are US citizens, because they may have to leave children behind or stay on undocumented.
Another prominent policy priority for Biden is to reinstate the Dreamers Program on his first day in office, that will allow children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. There are only 60 Nepalis under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) out of the 643,560 active ‘dreamers’. Trump’s attempts to dismantle the program in 2017 was blocked by US Supreme Court.
Aalok is one of the 60 Nepali DACA recipients, who has lived in the US since he was six. “I grew up thinking I am a US citizen as my parents did a very good job of hiding this from my sister and I,” Aalok told us on the phone.
But once he found out, Aalok recalls the traumatic experience because of the constant uncertainty. “I am grateful for this program, but I disliked the term dreamers because it was anything but a dream, it was a nightmare, because your identity was often used as a political bargaining tool. It was particularly difficult when I had to get into college because I could not apply for any federal and state funding, but was lucky to get a merit-based scholarship.”
When the networks called Biden’s win last week, Aalok was part of the car honking and dancing celebrations in New York. He says: “It was as if the whole world was breathing a collective sigh of relief.”
Joe Biden also has a positive stance on skilled-visas like the H-1B, which has been contentious under Trump. Nepalis make up only 0.4% of H1B visa holders annually, which is dominated by Indians who make up three-fourths of the visa holders.
The June proclamation also suspended the H-1B and other employment related visas, and in October the Trump administration announced further restrictions including narrowing the definition of ‘specialty occupations’ to ensure applicants have the degree specific to the job they are applying for, and increasing the salary threshold.
A Nepali with highly specialised programming skills in the Nepal branch of a small software development company says that he wrote the core platform and his managers considered him irreplaceable. He was offered a position under the L1B specialised worker visa, where his work was appreciated and he moved to a wider role.
“But after two years when it was time to get my visa renewed, it was rejected as my job description was deemed different than the original one,” he says. “The lawyers have filed a green card application, and hopefully things will move quicker under the Biden administration so I can go back to the US.”
Another student, an OPT intern who was working for a multi-billion dollar e-commerce retailer applied for an H1-B, had his visa rejected and had to move back to Nepal.
“The application was rejected over minor points regarding my salary, even though it was above the market rate, and because my area of study was not exactly computer science even though I had the programming skills,” he says.
Biden’s plans regarding skilled visas include reforming the temporary visa system to establish a wage-based allocation process so H1-B allocations are linked to prevailing wages and establish enforcement mechanisms. He also plans to expand the number of high-skilled visas, currently capped at 85,000, and elimination of the limits on employment-based visas by country.
Last year, 7,409 Nepalis got naturalised in the US whereas 10,201 received permanent residency. The top five states hosting Nepalis are Texas, New York, California, Virginia and Ohio (see figures below). In addition, a significant number of Nepalis also take circuitous paths to reach the US when they do not have access to the legal routes like H1B and DV.