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Opinion: I’m an El Paso doctor. The immigration system has put my future in jeopardy

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By Dr. Chandra Ojha

The EB-5 Regional Center Program is used by qualified foreign investors who seek to gain legal, permanent residency in the United States. So long as they invest a certain amount of funds into a project that also creates or preserves at least ten full-time jobs, they should be granted permanent citizenship.

Dr. Chandra Ojha

The program has created thousands of jobs, bolstered local communities and economies, and was always seen as one of the few things in government that both sides of the aisle agreed was a genuine benefit to the nation.

So, why take the time to discuss a policy that’s been around since the early 1990s? What’s the point in talking about it right now?

My name is Dr. Chandra Ojha. I am an interventional cardiologist, endovascular interventionist and assistant professor in the Division of Cardiology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center here in El Paso.

It has been an honor and a privilege to have been practicing medicine in El Paso since 2017, with no intention of stopping. I initially came to the United States in 2007 with a J1 visa and after seven years of training in New York and New Jersey, embarked on building a heart hospital, including heart attack center in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Subsequently I moved to El Paso to help TTUHSC build up its complex cardiovascular procedural care in one of the United States’ medically underserved regions.

As an India born-Indian citizen, facing severe green card backlogs in EB-2 and EB-1 categories, I embarked upon the EB-5 Program to find permanent residency in the United States. My I-526 petition was accepted in mid-2018 and after 27 long months of waiting, it was approved in late-2020. Things were looking good for my permanent residency status.

That is until June 30, 2021, when the EB-5 Regional Center Program failed to see reauthorization by the United States Senate. Effectively immediately, the program had died. What would become of my immigration status now? What would become of the important work I had in front of me?

My immigration status had already precluded me from working as much as I wanted to when the COVID-19 pandemic first spread across the United States in early 2020. I had the ability to help the people of El Paso, the capability to save lives and yet, I was forced to spend time on the sidelines because of my immigration status.

The pandemic continues to rage on. There is still more work to be done. I did and continue to contribute the maximum amount I can but there is only so much that I can do with my immigration status in flux. It is a terrible feeling to know that people in the El Paso community are dying, and I could help them but am not permitted to do so.

This is not just a problem that pertains to me. Roughly 32,500 immigrant investors, like myself, are anxiously awaiting updates on the program’s renewal. They too, are sitting in uncertainty with their immigration status, wondering what will become of them. Many of them are physicians, with the ability to help so many thousands and thousands of Americans.

The damage goes beyond just us: right now, there are $15 billion in capital investment hanging in flux, not to mention the 500,000 American jobs in jeopardy while we wait to see if the program is reauthorized. That’s half a million Americans who are actively looking for employment, looking to provide for their families, looking to make a living, who now have also been forced to find solutions elsewhere.

With age and health on my side, I hope to once again be at the forefront of providing care to as many cardiovascular patients as possible. As of now, there is no clear path to the reauthorization of the EB-5 Program. I urge the United States government to work toward a swift solution so that I and all others in situations like mine can continue our work in contributing to this nation and see it as home.

It is easy to get lost and forget that policy changes impact real people and real lives, but without the EB-5 Program, thousands and thousands of real, prospective, and current American lives have been thrown into complete uncertainty.

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