“Inquiries about emigration have increased by 50 per cent in the last few months,” laughs Sikander Lalani, CEO of Lalani & Associates which has been providing citizenship and residency services for three decades.

The patriotism that is dusted off and worn in the form of green shalwar kameez on the 14th of August is all well and good as far as light shows and fireworks are concerned. For the average, and the not-so-average (read rich) Pakistani, the long-term goals involve a passport that is no longer green.

The ‘land of the free’ is a popular destination, already home to half a million Pakistanis, roughly the population of Sukkur. So how does one join those who have flown the coop?

First and foremost, find an employer. Unlike Canada or Australia, most legal roads to the US require a job though there are some exceptions to the rule.

Would you be willing to spend Rs5m to flip burgers in exchange for the US Green Card?

The techie edge

One way is through a work permit which requires an H-1B visa where an employer offers a job. Over time if the employee is valued sufficiently, the employer obtains the required labour certifications through which the H-1B visa is converted into the coveted Green Card, explains Mr Lalani.

The H-1B visa has a quota of 65,000 with 20,000 additional visas for foreigners who graduate with a master’s degree or doctorate from a US institution, according to the American Immigration Council.

The bulk of this quota is taken up by tech giants such as Apple and Microsoft, asserts Mr Lalani. “Their human resource departments have planned for years to come and have the data ready and processes in place ready to go as soon as space opens up since the process takes at least 12 months.”

Furthermore, the US Congress is debating more leeway for visas for foreign graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It pays to be good at maths and computers.

The hook

“There is a blue-collar shortage in the US. When I walk down a street in New Jersey, there is hardly a shop that does not have a help wanted sign in the window,” says Mr Lalani, marketing his package for the Employment-Based Immigration category (EB3) visa.

Employers are willing to hire foreign workers and offer them a green card right off the bat, he claims. Currently, Lalani & Co is recruiting 200 caregivers (age 18-50) who, if they pass the two-year process, will get a job, a Green Card and the option of emigrating with a spouse and kids. Another package in the pipeline is for a fast food franchise with jobs located in Florida.

The catch

As tempting as the package is, it comes with a host of strings attached. Firstly, the entire process costs roughly $18,000-19,000 for an applicant. This includes $2,500 fees for Lalani & C0, $5,000 for the US attorney, $7,000 fee for the US government and $5,000 for the consultant in between. Plus $765 for each additional family member. With a husband and two kids, it costs roughly $20,000 or Rs5 million.

Secondly, the job would most likely pay the minimum wage ($7.25 per hour according to federal law) which comes to about $1,500 a month or Rs300,000. Someone who can afford Rs5m for the process may find the wages paltry.

Even if one is ready to swallow the pill to escape the crumbling economy of Pakistan to one of the most developed nations in the world, there is the not-so-little matter of convincing the visa officer.

Given the amount involved in the process, and the requirement to be English savvy enough to speak and read, it is hard to convince the visa officer that an educated, somewhat well-off Pakistani wants to go to the US to flip burgers or wipe old bums.

“From the start of the process to the visa interview, there are about two years. During this time, relevant experience makes the case stronger,” explains Mr Lalani. “For example, if you take care of elderly family members, take an online course on nursing and volunteer weekends at an Edhi old-age home, it would be easier to convince the visa officer that you will continue working in the field beyond the contractual obligation of a year.”

Being exceptional

While there is a bigger shortage of blue-collar workers than white-collar, being truly exceptional can make one eligible for the EB2 (NIW) — National Interest Waiver. This requires being highly qualified, internationally recognised (think global awards in the relevant field) and a member of a reputable society such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Basically, the applicant has to be so awesome in his field that it is in US’s national interest to issue the visa.

A matter of trust

Imagine that a Pakistani owns a multi-billion rupees company and wants to open an office in the US. Under the L-1 visa, it can send its senior staff member to America.

A year later, the company can start the process for an EB1C visa: Green Card for the applicant, spouse and children under 21 years of age.

However, a lot of people from Pakistan have gone to the US under this visa, shown business plans which have come to nought so the approval rate has dived down for the category, says Mr Lalani.

Millionaires in dollars

Of course, money is the solution to most problems. A $1,050,000investment anywhere in the US or $800,000 in an area targeted by the US government will allow for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme.

Basically, it boils down to this: if a Pakistani has Rs5m to Rs230m, emigration to the US is possible. But this cadre generally enjoys the maid-and-driver lifestyle and would prefer to continue the cosied living not available in America. If not, then there are options available.

(Emigration with an ‘e’ is when people leave the country and immigration with an ‘i’ is when people come to the country. Thus, if a person migrates to the US, he is emigrating to become an American immigrant)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 22nd, 2022

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