Is there a significant raise in demand for EB1 green card visa. What does the data say?

In the last 2 years or so, people in the online immigrant communities have been complaining about significant raise in Eb1 demand. Specifically, the outcry has been about abuse of the Eb1C visa, the visa class which allows employers to apply for green card for people who are “international managers”. However, most of the reports have been anecdotal. It has certainly become common to spot people who got greened through the Eb1c category. The frequent complaint has been that, Eb1c demand has gone through the roof in recent years and hence affects the people waiting in line for other employment based green card categories. Hence, I decided to look around to see if the increase in Eb1C demand can be established through data.

First step is to obtain the data itself. While USCIS releases data around various visa petition types, the actual useful information comes from DHS. DHS releases data of various immigration categories, legal permanent residency status being one. After poking around a bit the “table 7d” of the yearly stats file contains the data that we need (employment based green cards). Next questions is, how far to go back to try to see a trend emerging. I decided to go back to 2008, because it was one of the worst year for the economy in recent history. Many industries had to reset because of the recession and hence I chose that as a starting point for the analysis.

Every year, as H1b becomes popular, that is reflected in the higher volume of petitions applied towards the yearly cap. Along similar lines, I would expect the overall EB1 demand to creep higher if there is hot demand. While both the primary beneficiary and their dependents are counted towards the annual allocation of green card, I decided to look only at the primary beneficiaries to weed out any discrepancy that may arise out of varying family sizes through the years. Here is the graph of overall Eb1 (all categories) demand,

Eb1 demand

The above graph doesn’t show any significant increases in Eb1 visas overall. Over the last year or so it seems to be nearly flat. Interestingly, while the economy was still reeling from the great recession, 2009 and 2010 have had good years in terms of Eb1 visas. There has been a blip in 2011 and subsequently the demand has caught up and more or less stays flat around the 17000 mark. Not sufficient to show any significant upward trend. Unfortunately, that seems to go against the conventional wisdom of raising demand.

With overall Eb1 not showing any pattern, I decided to look just at Eb1C. Eb1 visa has internally has 3 sub-categories, Eb1A, Eb1B and then Eb1C which was mentioned earlier. So, decrease in demand for 1 category could mask the growth in another. So, I decided to separate them out and look only at Eb1C. Again looking at the primaries only, as dependents demand is directly dependent on the primary’s growth.

Eb1C demand

This graph more or less mirrors the first one. However, 2010 seems to have had a drop in demand for Eb1C, whereas the overall Eb1 went up higher. Raw numbers clearly indicate that Eb1C is the biggest component of Eb1 category. 2011 again seems to be an anomaly. Eb1c drop is the reason why EB1 had a drop in 2011 too. The graph does show some sequential higher numbers in the last 3 years. But those seem to be marginal increases and not the spikes I am looking for.

Overall, there seems to be a disconnect between perception and data. While some want USCIS to look into the alarming raise in Eb1C visas, there seems to be no such thing and hence USCIS may never act. Remember, It’s already an overloaded agency. So, what is causing that perception? May be the dependents of Eb1 are brought in at higher numbers. However, that still doesn’t indicate that Eb1c is being abused widespread. Even if large families are brought in by the primaries nothing can be done about that, unless not counting them towards the cap. And dependents analysis may be a subject for another post. Furthermore, the concerns raised is specifically about India’s Eb1c numbers. I looked around, but couldn’t find any country or company specific data released by DHS. But on a second thought, if Eb1c demand from one country is growing, then the demand from other countries should drop in tandem to keep the overall numbers in balance. In theory that’s possible, but there seems to be no reason to believe that demand from other counties is cooling off.

So, overall data doesn’t seem to support recent demand “going through the roof”. Visa numbers seems to be inline with historical numbers over the last few years. If we get hold of country/company specific numbers may be things will change.


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People on visa-Where to invest your money

If you are an Indian citizen, working in the US with a immigrant visa like H1b or L1 etc, What are your options on investing your hard earned money?

Debt

If you have debt in India, it’s generally better to pay them down first. However, if you have debt in the US, as long as the rates are competitive it’s ok to keep it around, because your credit history will improve. As you know that’s a good thing.

Sending money to India

Sure, you would have to send money to India, to support your family etc. But, from an investment point of view, you would have to think through your options.

One common mistake people make is looking at the fixed deposit interest rates. They notice Indian FD interest rates are higher than the US, so try to gain from the interest rate arbitrage. However, one thing they forget is the USD vs INR historical comparison. Historically, the rupee has lost 7-8% a year on an average over long periods of time. So, what that means is, it is roughly the same to keep your money in dollars under a mattress as investing in an Indian FD. Remember, the key term is long term. Over the long term, your FD INR grows by certain percentage but looses value to inflation against USD by roughly the same amount. On top of it your FD returns are taxed, where as your dollars under the mattress, which appreciated is not taxed. You think carefully about the depositing in Indian FD schemes.

How about FCNR deposits in USD? Glad you asked, I tried to invest $4000 in FCNR deposit. The bank booked FD only for $3800 after their charges and fees. And the projected return after 4 years on this FD is $4000. That’s right, you give the bank $4000 and they return you the same after 4 years! So, do your math before going this route.

Another factor to think about before sending money to India is what is your long term immigration goal? In the earlier years of visa, people buy properties in India etc. But as years progresses and your plan changes and you acquire a green card, your tax situation changes. Once you are on a green card, your global income is taxed in the US. One of the bitter stories from my friend is about their house back in India. They bought a house in India. And after several years they got a green card and decided to settle in the US and buy a house here. They sold their house in India and tried to use that proceeds towards buying a US house. But they were shocked to find out that they have to pay a hefty income tax to the US govt before they could repatriate the money from India.

So, unless you are plan to settle down in India is set in stone, it’s wise to think twice about investing in FD or property in India. And yeah, you also have the whole gamut of protecting the property from frauds etc.

HSA vs FSA

If you are deciding to keep the money in the US, the first option to consider is a HSA plan. Chances are that you and your family here in the US are young and healthy. A HSA plan is designed for people just like you. Instead of paying a high premium for a lower deductible, you pay lesser premium for a high deductible. The idea is that, since you are healthy, your hospital visits may be far and fewer hence pay from your pocket only when you visit a hospital. And the money you save by lower premiums can then be contributed towards a Health savings account (HSA). And that money is yours and you can use it for any future medical expenditures before tax. For example, you can accumulate money for child birth down the line etc. So, don’t spend on those high premiums, consider using the HSA plans. Remember to do the match across potential medical expenses over 5 or 10 year period instead of year on year comparisons. These plans will be offered by your employer as high deductible health plans combined with HSA.

IRA

Next option to consider is a IRA. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401k the decision is easy. You and your spouse can contribute a pretax money upto a limit (Govt sets the limit every year). to your IRA account. You can then invest the money in mutual funds or even stocks. The money is taxed when you withdraw after age 60. But, if your plans change and you decide to go back to India, consider leaving your investments here. You can manage them online and they continue to be your nest egg. But if you want to take that money back to India, then you pay the taxes and also a 10% penalty.

If you and your spouse work, then it may be advantageous to have separate IRA accounts. Because in the US you file taxes jointly, in India you file separately. So, by having individual IRA accounts you can take advantage of higher individual tax slab, when you pre close IRAs on your return.

401K

Consider a 401k if you are sure of settling down in the US and also if your employer makes a matching contribution. Most of the considerations for IRA applies here too.

Roth IRA vs Normal trading account

Roth IRA differs from a normal IRA in one aspect. Instead of contributing money before tax, you contribute money after tax. And any growth in the invested money is tax free. However, you still have a 10% penalty for premature withdrawal. But the principal contributed in roth can be withdrawn any time penalty free. But earnings on that principal will attract 10% penalty if you withdray before 60 years of age. And again most considerations for the IRA apply here too. If you think you can make good stock market investments or if you may inherit high income business later in your life consider Roth IRA. If not compare it with a regular trading account. Because in exchange of paying taxes on the investment returns you don’t have to pay 10% penalty for premature withdrawal. Also, if you are a passive index fund investor, you can get away with minimal taxes on your returns.

“Each person’s situation is different. This post is not a legal or a financial planning advice”


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5 ways to answer career gap questions for H4 EAD applicants

If you are on H4 visa, you must be excited to go back to work after obtaining you EAD. However, when looking for jobs, you may be a bit nervous about addressing a career gap question. Don’t worry you have ways to deal with it.

First, the most common issue to address is your own fear about aswering the gap. Many people are so focussed on the gap that they make it front and centre of their conversation, there by ignoring the conversations about their skill set.So get your focus off of the gap, because it’s not a unique problem to you and each year lots of people overcome it. It’s just one aspect of your other qualifications for the job. Remember, hiring good people is a hard and time consuming process. So, if you had good background and performed well at the interview, gap is not going to be an issue. So, focus on those aspects and don’t fret too much over the career breaks. If it helps, consider creating a skill based resume instead of a time line based resume.

Besides that, how do you convert your perceived liability into a strength? Well, you have some options. Before looking at those, imagine for a second when a recruiter asks about your career break, instead of saying

“Hmm, I wasn’t able to work because I was on a dependent visa and couldn’t do much about it”

say something like

“The gap is because of visa issues. However, after EAD I have been preparing myself to get back to work. I have a blog and actively write about the latest on Javascript. I also actively speak in local javascript user groups”

The second answer is likely to catch attention of the hiring manager.

And It need not always have to be a blog, be creative and prepare to steer the conversation away from the career gap towards your skills and strengths. Here are some options to build a brand for yourself,

1) Write a blog

Start a blog in the area you are looking to work. Fill the blog with 5-10 detailed blog posts. You don’t have to create a website, simple wordpress.com and blogger.com posts are sufficient. Writing on linkedin is even better because of the credibility it adds to your profile. Or you could seek out and write a guest post for a popular blog. Blog owners always look for good guest contributors. And you can write about general introductions, how to posts, comparison etc. For example if you are shooting for a web developer position, you could write posts like

  • What is the state of web development?

  • How to create a simple hello world page in angular.js?

  • What are the advantages of react.js over other similar frameworks?

You get the idea.

2) Presentation

You could take the blog one step further, convert that into a presentation. There are lot’s of interest based groups out there who are looking for a speaker. Find a local group on sites like meetup.com and volunteer to do a presentation. For example, there are local java groups, business analyst groups etc, where you can present on something simple and interesting. You don’t have to be an expert, you might become one in the process of preparing for the presentation. You can present on basic introductions to new techniques, tools, process etc. For example, one of the recent hire in our team did a presentation on how to do a “hello world” app in ios, android and windows platforms. It was an interesting choice, because instead of doing a deeper presentation, she took a basic concept and spread it across platforms and talked about the similarities and differences. And that presentation lead to a conversation with the hiring manager, which eventually led her to a job. That’s another side affect of attending the interest groups. You get to build a network. And you can even start by attending the group meetings to make yourself comfortable before doing a presentation.

3) Youtube

If you are presenting in a local group, make sure someone makes a vide and you can post that on youtube. Or You can create short tutorials on youtube on the topic of your interests. And link them to your blog!

4) Certifications

Certifications are another good way to show that you have invested in your career. Explore the popular ones in your area of interest and get yourself certified. But don’t spend a fortune on fancy certifications. If you are in the software industry, you could consider basic scrum certifications in addition to a domain specific certification as scrum is slowly becoming the de facto way of building software. While good certifications are an effective tool for learning, not all people are fan of certifications. Hence, it’s more effective if you can combine certifications with one ore more of the above items. Moreover, if you are preparing for a certification, you would fetch you more ideas for blog posts and presentations.

5) Local conferences

This option is similar to the presentations, but taking it higher. If you find conferences, check if you can get a speaking slot. Most likely, that’s going to be difficult. But, conferences typically look for volunteers. See if you can land any interesting roles like organizer of a session or a workshop or something like that. Atleast, just by volunteering you can build your network and also add talking points to your resume.

The options presented here are some examples of building your personal brand irrespective of your career gaps. So, you can certainly take advantage of these techniques to overcome any doubts you or the recuiter has in your ability to perform the job. Good luck and happy hunting!


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