by Ashfaque Ismail
Ushma Neill and Ruslan Medzhitov, two immigrant scientists, started a petition on change.org on June 15, 2020 in favor of H1B Visas sponsored by American companies who scout for talented individuals with certain skill sets and specialized knowledge for hiring for a particular job. The guest workers visas have been drawing flak from American job seekers who say these visas have taken away millions of jobs from the indigenous people. The magnitude of opposition to H1Bs has reached its highest point during the Trump Presidency particularly in the aftermath of 40 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in the recent past. President Trump has said on more than one occasion that when the economy re-opened up, Americans should be given preference in giving out jobs.
Amidst this rhetoric that hints at halting H1Bs, the scientist community started this petition to safeguard their counterparts’ interests working in the United States. They immigrated to the United States and have been living and working here for many years now. In the petition the immigrant scientist community says H1B Visas were crucial to keep running the “innovation engine of American science”.
The campaign has set a target of having 10,000 people signing the petition which was started on change.org on June 15, 2020. In just seven days, the petition got an overwhelming response as of June 22, 2020. More than 9,000 immigrants signed by the said date, merely 1,000 short of the intended number of 10,000 signers. The petition says, “An executive order barring J, H, L, and OPT visas is not only potentially unconstitutional, but deeply un-American.” The first para reads like this, “As we grapple with how to correct racial injustice and promote equality in our society, we scientists cannot remain mute about another movement within the Trump administration which perpetrates and exacerbates discrimination.”
Shabaana Khader who is an immigrant scientist working in St. Louis while exhorting people to sign the petition said without H1Bs it would not have been possible for people like her to have acquired a job in the United States. “I am an immigrant scientist and without the J1 or H1B visa would not have been here today. Without the J1 and H1B visas, scientific innovation and leadership in America will be hollow,” Khader said in a tweet. Khader runs the Khader Lab at the Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.