Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Hospitals have been strained for resources, including skilled personnel, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Getty)
Hospitals have been strained for resources, including skilled personnel, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Getty) 

I’m an Immigrant Doctor Treating COVID-19 Patients. Death Isn’t My Only Fear Right Now.

I cannot afford to die while waiting for a green card.

I am a kidney doctor in rural Pennsylvania, caring for COVID-19 patients and trying my best to survive despite limited supplies of personal protective equipment.

I am also one of some 300,000 Indians in the United States on a H-1B work visa, waiting in line for a green card that would give me legal permanent residency.

My greatest fear is that if I contract and die from COVID-19, my wife, who is on a dependent visa, will be asked to go back to India. My 1-year-old daughter, an American citizen by birth, cannot travel with her as the Indian government has a travel embargo on all foreign citizens to limit entry of COVID-19 patients.

The never-ending wait is sheer torture. After paying taxes for decades, I would not be eligible for Social Security in retirement. 

Every year, the United States issues 140,000 green cards based on employment. A maximum of 7% can go to any single country (usually, only 3,000). This system has resulted in a backlog of several hundred thousand immigrants from India waiting for permanent residency status. Their immigration petitions have been approved, but there are no green cards available. The Cato Institute and other agencies estimate the wait time for Indian immigrants approved today to be up to 150 years.

The never-ending wait is sheer torture. After paying taxes for decades, I would not be eligible for Social Security in retirement. Getting a driver’s license requires multiple trips to the DMV, waiting for immigration verification. There is a court battle going on over whether my wife and immigrants like her can work during their decades in limbo. Many employers are unwilling to deal with hiring people on a work visa, like me. Most credit unions will not make me a member and lenders will not consider me for a mortgage.

Most of my friends and patients are happily oblivious of this situation. A lot of people seem to think that I can just walk to an immigration office, fill out some applications and get citizenship. They don’t realize that there is no viable path for immigrants like me. Politicians claim to be “for” legal immigration and “against” illegal immigration all the time. Yet, initiatives to help highly skilled immigrants have gotten nowhere.

One proposal, the federal Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act , was approved in the House but has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee. During this pandemic, it would make good sense to eliminate country caps by declaring a onetime, emergency increase in the number of green cards issued to immigrants with critically required skills.

Doctors from India like me make up around 5.1% of the total physician workforce in the United States. With the never-ending wait, many of them are abandoning their American dream and taking their skills elsewhere. Their absence will be felt even more in public health crises such as the COVID-19 outbreak. I hope and pray that this situation gets resolved before I am forced to join this exodus.

In the meantime, I will keep on being extra diligent with my reused personal protective equipment. I cannot afford to die while waiting for a green card.


© 2021 Los Angeles Times
Gurmukteshwar Singh

Gurmukteshwar Singh

Gurmukteshwar Singh is a nephrologist in Danville, Penn.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·


FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Booster Shots for People 65+ and Especially Vulnerable

The scientific advisory committee voted down a recommendation for other adults.

Common Dreams staff ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo