WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Disgruntled green card applicants from India sent hundreds of flowers to the U.S. immigration agency on Tuesday to protest a recent policy flip-flop that hurt their quest for permanent residency.
The campaign that directed around a thousand flower deliveries to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Emilio Gonzalez was modeled on a popular Indian film promoting the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi.
The protest was inspired by the abrupt reversal last week of an announcement issued in June offering expedited processing of green card petitions for thousands of skilled foreign professionals working under H1-B visas.
Thousands of holders of H1-B visas — reserved for skilled workers in computing, engineering and other special professions — scrambled and spent money on lawyers and medical exams to prepare green card applications for a July 1 deadline.
The abrupt closure of this path to a green card — proof of lawful permanent resident status — sent the applicants back to the queue for 2008, when they will have to spend more time and money, organizers of the protest said.
“The gist of the campaign was to peacefully convey disappointment and concern at how things have evolved in the last month,” said Sivakanth Mundru, a Virginia-based computer systems analyst who was affected by the policy.
Gonzales said in a statement on the USCIS Web site that the agency would forward the flowers to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C., the main facilities treating U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We welcome the fact that the director at least acknowledged this campaign and we are happy that our flowers will be bringing some color to our soldiers in those two medical hospitals,” said Vikas Bajaj, a software developer in Wisconsin who helped organize the flower protest.
Although Indians staged the flower protest, the green card application setback affected skilled workers from China, Poland and many other countries.
Mundru and other activists said hundreds of thousands of people shared his state of limbo. Many were unwilling or unable to buy houses or start companies until their residency was secure, they said.
The situation of foreign professionals working in the United States while awaiting green cards was sidelined in this year’s contentious immigration debate, which focused on illegal immigrants, Bajaj said by telephone from Wisconsin.
“We have never been in this country illegally, we are hard-working, we are skilled immigrants — and yet very little space is devoted to our issues,” he said.
“The irony is, in this whole migration debate, our issues are probably easiest to solve,” said Bajaj.