Senator Dick Durbin and State Senator Ram VillivalamOn Friday, February 7, 2020, State Sen. Ram Villivalam and Dinkar Karumuri, a local Technology entrepreneur and a community leader, met U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, along with a few immigrant family members from various backgrounds, all of them waiting for more than a decade in the green card approval queue.

Sen. Durbin took the time to hear their stories and explain the improvements he negotiated to the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (S. 386). Dinkar Karumuri thanked the senator for his advocacy and support of immigrants throughout his career in public service, while also indicating the desperate nature of the immigrant community’s situation, that there are several stories to share, and that, at the meeting, they had representatives reflective of the population. Sen. Durbin was interested in hearing the stories.

Tanmayi Achanti, a recent graduate of UIC, explained her plight of having to convert her immigration status to an international student visa during her finals and how aging out hindered the opportunities in her job hunt. “I came here along with my parents in the year 2000, as a 3-year-old kid. Chicago is my home, but I am and feel like an alien in my own home now. I moved to a student visa, and it was devastating for my parents and me. At the same time, we see the job offers get rejected even after I am qualified and for the sole reason of companies not being able to sponsor for my work visa per their policy. I stayed strong to console my parent's pain," she said.

Neelima Boddu, a mother of a bright Illinois Math and Science Academy student, Rishita Boddu, explained how the wait time in issuing the EADs and APs had been increased over the years now. “My daughter fares well in academics. She goes to IMSA. She gets a lot of intern opportunities over summer, but she can't take any as she doesn't have the right visa. We never get to see my parents or travel since my daughter gets visa after nine months' delay, and it expires soon after we receive, and the cycle continues."

Raj Potluri, a professional with 18 years of experience in Financial Technology, said, "I applied for H4 EAD in October, my wife got her H1 approved but not mine. I used to manage large teams, and now I have no choice but to sit at home. I am laid off from work as my employer could not wait for me for my visa to be approved. Besides that, my daughter was invited to internships from Yale & Georgetown Universities, asking her to decline those offers was very hard.” It's not the end of the story for him, “I can't even drive my kid to school as the Secretary of State renews driving licenses only till the end of H4 validity and doesn't consider the approval wait period.” He seeks help from family & friends to drive around as and when needed.

Sri Sailesh Maddi, an IT professional, mentioned how he entered the US as a student in 2007 and secured a job during the Recession of 2008 while everyone around him was losing jobs. "I did everything right to get a good education and a job. During the marriage, I told my wife that we would get a green card in 3 years. I say the same thing even after a decade now. This joke has been a harsh reality of my life now. I am in the 6th renewal for work visa. The H1 approvals used to take 30 days or so. But now the renewals are taking nearly 12 months. I can't move in career easily since the Green Card process has to start again. My kids are US citizens, yet the probability of losing the visa frightens me that I have to take kids to India and to raise them away from their home country."

Raj Adagatla, a software engineer, says, "I came to this country in 2007 with an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. The elder one will age out, if this bill doesn't pass by Aug. 2020 and younger one may follow the same in three years. My older kid, after being able to secure a job but was rejected the offer a week later since the company cannot sponsor a visa for him. These shattered his dreams.”

Dinkar Karumuri said, "There are doctors out there in rural areas who see thousands of patients a year. They make lives better, but they constantly suffer from insecurity in their own lives. One thing in common for all these families is uncertainty."

To reduce the dependency on the foreign workers, Dinkar informed Sen. Durbin regarding a not-for-profit he founded along with other tech leaders called "Center for IT Talent Acceleration." This organization is working in tandem with City Colleges of Chicago for CPS students to go through an apprenticeship program. Sen. Durbin expressed interest in learning more about this program.

Sen. Durbin and his staff explained how the amendments to the S.386 bill he negotiated with Sen. Lee address issues many of the families are facing, namely provisions to protect aging out children and protections for immigrant workers’ ability to change jobs and travel.

Still, some of the challenges are within the State jurisdiction. To address that, Sen. Ram Villivalam indicated that he is working on introducing bills for tuition fees and driver’s licenses and stated that this meeting does not just talk about the five families in the room; it represents all the 500,000 immigrants' families who have been suffering for years. Sen. Durbin and his staff reiterated their commitment to help individuals and families with related cases with USCIS for any constituents who need help.

Senate Bill S.386 – Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 was introduced by Senator Mike Lee and Senator Kamala Harris in February 2019. Back in early July 2019, HR 1044 Bill to Remove Per Country Limits was passed in the House and was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also, around the same time in the Senate, we had a similar Bill S. 386, which was more or less like HR 1044 Bill, amended as per Senator Grassley's request adding clauses of H1B, LCA related topics. There has been a lot of debate on this bill since then by many groups and eventually, the deal made between Sen. Durbin & Sen. Lee.

In October, Sen. Durbin, along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), introduced the Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act, which would eliminate the family and employment Green Card backlog over five years, help keep American families together by classifying spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) as immediate relatives and exempting derivative beneficiaries of employment-based petitions from annual Green Card limits, protect “aging out” children who qualify for LPR status based on a parent’s immigration petition, and lift country caps.

Category: Press Releases

State Senator Ram VillivalamSPRINGFIELD – State Senators Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) and Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) recently announced new legislation to help volunteer firefighters and EMT’s with their expenses.

Senate Bill 3224 creates a $500 tax credit that qualifying volunteer firefighters and EMTs can claim when they file their Illinois income taxes. It is designed to help volunteer firefighters and EMTs pay for expenses, such as medical and fire equipment, training, licensure, and even insurance. Villivalam and Barickman hope that reducing the financial burden of volunteering can help local fire departments to recruit new volunteers to bolster their efforts to protect the public.

"Volunteer EMS and fire services, like Hatzalah in the district I represent, supplement and boost the critical work of our firefighters throughout the entire state," said Senator Villivalam. "This tax credit will enable volunteer services to boost recruitment and continue providing lifesaving, high quality assistance."

“Volunteer firefighters and EMTs put their lives on the line for us with little or no pay of any kind, even though they have to pay equipment and training costs,” said Sen. Barickman. “This legislation will help offset some of their costs and hopefully make it easier to do their job, which is to protect all of us.”

Senate Bill 3224 has been assigned to the subcommittee on tax exemptions and credits.

Category: Press Releases

State Senator Ram VillivalamSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), the newly appointed chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, sent a letter to his colleagues inviting them to reintroduce any legislation that Villivalam’s predecessor refused to give an open hearing.

“It has been widely reported that the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee from 2009 to October of 2019 conducted meetings and approached policy, as it relates to transportation issues, without making the public good and/or public policy his top priority,” Villivalam said. “As the new chair, I have vowed to create and implement an open, transparent and accountable process for legislation that will maintain and improve our transportation and infrastructure system in a data-driven, equitable way.”

Villivalam pledged to provide an open, fair and transparent process for all legislation assigned to the Transportation Committee this year. He also encouraged his colleagues in the General Assembly to notify him if a bill in the Transportation Committee was assigned to the committee in a previous year but never heard.

“I am committed to holding hearings throughout the state to enable local people to comment on the transportation issues that matter most to them,” Villivalam said. “The government works for the people, so it works best when everyone gets a chance to voice their opinions, and we legislators make the best, most informed decisions when we talk to both experts and the people whose everyday lives are effected by our decisions.”

The Senate Transportation Committee normally meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m.

Category: Press Releases

Senator Ram VillivalamSPRINGFIELD - Governor Pritzker’s second budget address was today. His proposal highlighted funding increases for education, including an additional $50 million for the childhood block grant, a $100 million increase to Child Care Assistance Program, and a $7 million increase in Early Intervention Funding.

“I’m pleased to see Governor Pritzker propose a budget that will drastically increase funding for early education,” said State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago). “I represent many young parents who often struggle to balance child care while working a full time job, and I’m heartened to see the governor moving to lighten the burden of working parents.”

The governor’s proposal also includes a $50 million increase for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) financial aid program for university students, $5 million for a new community college apprenticeship grant program, and continued funding for the AIM HIGH program.

“The proposed increases to the state’s need-based financial aid programs for college students, the early childhood block grant, and fully funding our pension system are a good start to righting our fiscal ship and encouraging people to invest in our state. I look forward to working with the governor to bring real progressive change to our state.”

Category: Press Releases

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