Twenty members of Congress and Senators attended a Capitol Hill Healthcare symposium hosted by the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin (AAPI) on Wednesday. One of the major issues discussed at the gathering, which brought together doctors and Congressmen from all over the country, was immigration reform.
"Since we're all here on Capitol Hill, don't forget to meet your Congressman," implored AAPI President Jayesh Shah as he addressed the assembled members of AAPI. "We're here to tell them what we think, as a body. It makes a lot of difference when they hear directly from their constituents, so please do not be afraid to approach them."
Among congressmen present at the event was Indian American Ami Bera (D-CA). An American-born physician himself, Bera talked about the need to mitigate the shortage of physicians in the country, and mentioned legislation that he has been involved with that he hopes will provide a solution to the problem.
The 2013 AAPI legislative agenda has three main platforms it's aiming to push with this symposium: clearing the backlog of Green Cards, reform the H-1B, J-1, and F-1 visas, and expand STEM (Science Technology Math Engineering), to also include physicians.
AAPI believes that the H-1B quota should be expanded from 65,000 to 120,000, that J-1 visas should become permanent (not requirement should be there for re-authorization every three years), and that both J-1 and F-1 visas would be dual-intent, so that physician students who come to the US under those visas can then immediately secure Green Cards if they graduate from an accredited institution and have employer sponsorship.
Alex Nowrasteh, from the Cato Institute - a DC-based libertarian think-tank which believes in limited government and freer markets - talked about how much Indian immigrants to the US help the American economy not just at the higher end of the job spectrum, such as medicine and engineering, but also on the lower end who do the jobs that often get taken for granted.
"Every time an Indian doctor opens up a practice in America, he's creating jobs for typists, secretaries, all sorts of jobs that we don't normally associate with Indian Americans. They may not necessarily be occupying these jobs, but they are creating them," said Nowrasteh.
Nowrasteh also mentioned a statistic that immigrants are more than twice as likely as domestic-born Americans to start businesses in the US, with around 1/3 of the IT companies started in America having been started by foreign-born citizens.
Suhail Khan, Director of External Affairs for Microsoft, implored lawmakers to instigate easier immigration policies for STEM workers coming from India.
Explaining the situation his company is currently in, Khan said: "Microsoft has 6,000 job openings, of which 4,000 are in core STEM fields, but we can't fill them. If you're a 21 or 22 year-old college graduate, we're offering [people like this] a starting salary of $109,000, with a $25,000 signing bonus and $25,000 in stock options - so essentially $159,000 right out of college - and these jobs just aren't being filled."
Khan also criticized the laws regarding foreigners who come to the US for school and are then forced to leave when their visas are no longer valid after completing their education. "People from India are coming to the US, learning skills in IT, defense, what have you, and then [the US government] is essentially saying "okay, nice knowing you" and sending them back to compete against us. The system is broken."
A recurring theme from all the legislators who spoke was the need for bipartisan cooperation; nearly all speeches ended with a cry to get AAPI members to help reach across the aisle and pass immigration and healthcare reform.
Frank Pallone (D-NJ), ranking member of the Congress's Health Sub-Committee, stated that "[Congress will] do a little better, in theory, in bringing Indian physicians over to the US who want to come, but there are limitations on that because the process is so bureaucratic, and also because of how many residency spots there are. There are only so many residency spots available, and we have this atmosphere [in Congress] where the GOP and Tea Party want to cut everything. So it's going to be difficult."
Also at the event were representatives of Immigrants' List, a DC-based Political Action Committee dedicated to advocating fair and streamlined immigration reform policy. Other luminaries at the event included Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) - who is facing opposition from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna in his district - co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans Joe Crowley (D-NY), and Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, who is also a former US Senator (R-SC). (GIN/ AmericanBazaarOnline.com)