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Legacy Farms resident with H-1B visa questions lack of voting rights

by | Nov 20, 2023 | Featured: News, News

Dhaval Avlani has lived in Legacy Farms for the past 13 years with his wife and son. He came to Hopkinton on an H-1B visa as a worker with technical skills desirable to American companies.

What has frustrated him and other Legacy Farms residents who also work under the H-1B visa program, he said, is that the monolithic process toward U.S. citizenship prevents them from having the right to vote on town issues that impact them as taxpayers.

“I feel like it’s taxation without representation,” he said in a recent interview with the Independent.

In mid-October, Avlani was the only resident who attended a meeting about the Elmwood School replacement building held at Faith Community Church of Hopkinton geared toward Legacy Farms residents.

The reason, he explained, is that many Legacy Farms residents feel that because they ultimately can’t vote, they become despondent.

“There’s a whole chunk of the population that doesn’t get a say in how those funds are going to be allocated,” said Avlani. “If you have 500 homes with two adults per home, that’s 1,000 people who don’t have a voice.”

“The situation described by the Legacy Farms resident indeed raises a crucial issue of representation and civic participation, echoing historical sentiments of ‘taxation without representation,’ ” stated Select Board vice chair Shahidul Mannan in an email to the Independent. “It’s vital to empathize with the South Asian residents who, while contributing to their community and owning homes, find themselves unable to vote on matters that directly affect them.

“In the long run, I certainly value and acknowledge that it’s essential for us policymakers to consider the contributions and interests of long-term residents, irrespective of their citizenship status,” Mannan continued. “Addressing issues like school and town matters goes beyond partisanship; it’s about ensuring that all members of a community have a say in matters that impact their lives and homes.”

Citizenship under H-1B visa program can take years

The H-1B visa program, under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, allows American employers to hire foreign non-immigrant workers in specialty occupations.

Dhaval Avlani

Dhaval Avlani

“The intent of the H-1B provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor website.

“Once you have a labor certification and a green card process put in place here, the employer files the application saying that the person has the skill sets they’re looking for,” Avlani explained. “This is what sets what your priority date is.”

Some Legacy Farms residents have priority dates in the early 2010s, he said, including him.

“And they won’t be able to vote for another 10 to 15 years,” he continued. “I think that’s important for the town to know.”

The Independent on Oct. 27 contacted the U.S. Department of Labor to try to verify data on H-1B visa recipients in Hopkinton. No information was provided after one week.

“It is an interesting dilemma that the process now takes so long,” stated state Rep. James Arena-DeRosa in an email to the Independent. “[T]own residents who are settled, owning homes, paying taxes and very engaged in a community are still not U.S. citizens and are not eligible to vote (even in local elections).”

Estimate: Scores of Legacy Farms residents ineligible to vote

Avlani considered Legacy Farms North and Legacy Farms South when calculating the number of people on H-1B visas who cannot vote. Out of the 700 homes, he estimated that about 200 people are eligible.

He deduced this number from his membership in a group of 120 registered voters at Legacy Farms. This group was formed to advocate for the town’s acceptance of Legacy Farms North Road as a public way, which Town Meeting approved in 2020. Before, school buses could not pick up students there, forcing them to walk to Frankland Road, Avlani explained.

“I presumed that most people have either the husband or the wife on the group, but not both,” said Avlani. The rest of the residents, he assumed, are here on H-1B visas, unless they recently have become citizens.

“There are some people that are actually waiting for their kids who were born here to become adults so they can sponsor them for citizenship,” said Avlani. “In five years, my child will be able to sponsor me.”

Said Avlani: “Eighteen years is a long time to wait for a green card.”

Arena-DeRosa noted that there is a bill currently before the Legislature — HD 3745 —  that addresses this issue in Somerville.

“There actually is some discussion at the state level that would allow (but not mandate) towns the option to allow residents to vote in local elections even if they are not U.S. citizens,” he wrote. “To me, I am fine with communities having this local option, but it is up to them on whether to move forward.”

Town Clerk explains voting data, Town Meeting procedure

In a recent interview with the Independent, Town Clerk Connor Degan confirmed that Precinct 1, which includes Legacy Farms, has the most residents who don’t vote.

“There are more nonvoting residents in Hopkinton than ever before,” Degan said. “When you look at that number from Legacy Farms, that’s about 1% of the adult population.”

In Precinct 1, 1,191 residents out of 3,362 residents are not voters, he shared. This data shows that more than 35% of this precinct is comprised of non-voters and suggests that Avlani’s hypothesis is correct.

Degan suggested “voting by proxy” for non-citizens.

“If some residents cannot vote, I would encourage them to talk to their neighbors who can,” said Degan. “And by neighbors, I mean the whole community at large, not just people in their circle.”

Non-citizens can influence the process, Degan added. There are public comment periods at many town board and committee meetings.

He also noted the impact that the Legacy Farms community had in advocating with Eversource for a meeting about the LNG facility as an example of the impact non-citizens can make.

Mannan echoed Degan’s sentiment.

“Community members and advocates can come together to raise awareness about the issue and lobby for changes in local budgets and policies — in this case for the Elmwood School,” he stated, “engaging with local government officials like myself and my colleagues, talking to other voting residents and giving us their opinions and feedback.”

He also stressed the importance of nonprofit organizations dedicated to promoting South Asian culture, such as the South Asian Circle of Hopkinton, as well as other advocacy groups in town to make their concerns known.

6 Comments

  1. Linda Chuss

    What would it take to get a bill passed like HR 3745 here in Hopkinton? Could it be done at the state level so every town doesn’t have to go through the process, like Vermont has done? Enfranchise residents so they can participate more.

  2. Alice Cramden

    13 years on a work visa? I find it hard to believe your company can’t find suitable employees. As far as voting in town elections, that’s called the law. You vote for new super schools for your children that boost the tax rate to a point where elderly and young can’t stay. When your kids graduate or you are ready to retire, you take all that super money you have been making and go back where you came from. We used to call those “Carpetbaggers”.

    • A Citizen

      I fully agree with your comments. We are a country of laws, and the laws should be followed. Yes, it takes years for an immigrant to become a US Citizen; as it should.

      The individual who brought this issue to the table sounds like a very upstanding person and I would encourage him to not give up, but to continue with his efforts and the established process to become a naturalized citizen. As for voting; sorry I vehemently disagree; follow the law!!!

      Unfortunately, our immigration system is broken and the idiots we send to congress while agreeing, don’t have the courage to fix it. I am not against H1-B visas or immigration, but the mobs at the Southern border need to be stopped, as do many of the Ultra-Liberals who support and coddle people who should not be here.

      I saw a nightly news program last week where a women with 4 children was interviewed in Boston and bemoaning her inability to get (citizen paid for) housing. Of course the women needed to speak thru an interpreter, as despite being in the U.S. illegally FOR 8 YEARS, she hasn’t apparently seen the need to learn English. The often heard phrase “press 1 for Spanish and 2 for English” makes my blood boil. The US has had many waves of legal immigrants over two centuries. Whether German, Irish or whatever, they learned to speak English. But now, apparently people look at this as a burden and expect miilions of citizens to accomodate the sheer laziness of people who have no right to be here.

      Although I dislike Donald Trump with a passion, would never vote for him and believe he is the closest thing to the Anti-Christ ever witnessed since the world was created, he got this one right. Round them up, put them on buses and planes and send them back to where they came from. If the Ultra-Left can’t deal with it, they can go too.

  3. Holly Morand

    I wholeheartedly agree that everyone in this community should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent – that includes renters who also pay taxes through their rent. I would love, in my role as a resident of the community, to help advocate to the state to pass a law that would allow our community to include everyone in decisions about our town.

  4. Amy Groves

    Voting by noncitizens in local elections, especially for school boards, exists already in a number of municipalities. It was struck down in New York but only because it was found to violate their state constitution. It’s really not an outlandish idea. We should pursue this.

  5. jake leone

    There are a lot of problems with our immigration system. #1 we give a 15% tax break to hire a foreign STEM student worker over a local STEM student. This feeds into a system that prefers foreign workers, just because they don’t have full rights. DOJ vs Facebook 2020 and DOJ vs Apple 2023 point this out. 2600+ cases of discrimination against better qualified local STEM applicants to Facebook, over just the 1.5 year period of the investigation (By Facebooks own admission to Federal Investigators). Foreign workers are preferred because they come with an initial 15% discount, can’t leave the job when on H-1b and when waiting for a Green Card. This means, foreign workers wind up become the hiring managers, who then add another layer of discrimination to the process by preferring to hire their home countrymen. The way to end this cycle, is to extend the 15% Opt tax break to all students and the unemployed, because every tech job requires some training. If the worker leaves early (<3 years) they pay back the tax break. Allocate H-1b visas based upon salary (instead of an idiotic random chance lottery, which is gamed and mostly won by lower qualified applicants). Force companies to advertise, on all free services, the job ads for Green Card certification. (Facebook/Apple refused the free offers of local newspapers to place the job ads on their internet job board, instead the job ads were buried in 2 Sunday print editions). Require companies accept Emailed resumes from locals, for these Green Card job ads (Facebook only accepted stamped mailed-to a law office-resumes from locals for these jobs). Finally, if a Green Card applicant fails the test for uniqueness of skill in the local job marked, a second time, the local gets the job. These measures would end the H-1b and Green Card backlogs, and maybe Mr. Avlani, would have Green Card and be applying for citizenship (or have it) by now.

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