Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Kennedy's death - Bangladesh and her expatriates lose a great friend and mentor

It is a sad day for America. With the death of Senator Teddy Kennedy, America lost one of its most noble souls. He was an articulate advocate of human rights, an unwavering champion of peace against war, and, of course, immigration rights and health-care for all. His was a life very few could aspire for - from childhood upbringing unto death. He was able to see things very few had dared to consider. He was able to discuss things with ease very few dared to discuss. Often times the stand he took were not politically correct. Yet as a man of parts, a visionary, as one of the best citizens of our planet, he took a bold stand and tried to make America better for all its citizens and inhabitants and by that process he touched the lives of too many, even those who lived outside. He knew that we are all connected somehow. What is good for our world ought to have been good for America, too.

In deep sadness, we recall the demise of this great man whose contribution to the cause of Bangladesh should never be forgotten by our posterity.

Issues towards fostering amicable relationship between Bangladesh and the USA

The following is a list of issues which need attention from respective governments to foster a durable friendly relationship between Bangladesh and the USA. These are based on cumulative experience of many of our expats in this country and need resolutions.

A. Bangladeshis visiting the USA: What is needed -
1. Easing visitor visa process for new applicants - takes too long with too many things to fill visa application form, medical tests, etc. Note that American visitors to Bangladesh don't need to go through such tests and lengthy processes for a nominal visitor visa.

2. Easing student visa process for students - too much info beyond what is expected. It is also discriminatory when compared against other Asian countries, including next door India, whose students don't face as much hassel as ours. The F-20 form and support of financial aid/guarantee should be good enough to get them the necessary visa. A student must also have a multiple year student visa for the normative period of his/her visa; e.g., 4-5 year for BS/BA, 2-3 year for MS and 5-7 year for PhD (or overall 5-8 year for graduate students). During this time, the student should be able to visit his/her loved ones whenever he feels. Many students from Bangladesh are afraid to visit their ailing parents fearing that once they are back in Bangladesh they may not be allowed to return to the USA. [Some of our foreign students had to wait 9 years before they could go home to see their parents and siblings when they were doing graduate studies. And that too, only after they got a Green Card through their employers.] There is an obvious discrimination of our students against European students who had no problem visiting their loved ones during the summer.

3. Easing restriction on H-1 visa holders so that they could at ease visit Bangladesh and take their spouses with them upon return to the USA.

4. Easing restrictions of Green card holders to be able to bring their spouses to the USA. What is prevalent is simply inhuman forcing spouses to be separated for years before the other party is called to the US Embassy for visa interview. That process must shorten to maximum of 6 months, reducing family attrition and tension.

5. Easing restrictions of family members of U.S. Citizens to come to the USA - the current process requires almost a year for the non-US spouse to join his/her better half in the States. And that, too, after lots of tests and forms, which are required to be filled by applicants. The naturalization charges are also too high. Parents and siblings now have to wait for more than a decade before they are called by the embassy for interview. By that time, many parents and siblings have become too old and too frail to get excited to move to the USA. Even a child who is more than 18 cannot join his/her US parents immediately and have to wait years before called in for interview for green card. What the US naturalization process is doing to immigrants is simply one of the worst abuses of human right - denying company of their immediate loved ones - parents, siblings and children. It needs REFORM. The fees for the naturalization process must also be reduced significantly to make it easy for people to reunite. The process is so cumbersome with so many forms and papers and tests, very few elderly feel motivated to join their children here. Many believe that the process is made complex and difficult to discourage people to come to the USA. But that is not right from human rights perspective that America preaches.

6. The ordinary citizens should be given priority over political touts and criminals like Saqa Chowdhury. People with criminal records like Saqa Chowdhury who had endangered family properties of the NRBs must be DENIED visa to enter the USA. Such individuals who have intentionally harmed NRB families must be declared persona non-grata.

7. Given Bangladesh's vulnerability against natural disasters and man-made ones, sufficient global efforts are needed to ensure that its tens of millions would be catered from such disasters. America also needs to help Bangladesh develop its energy sector, and rein upon India so that the latter cannot harm the country. American help is crucial for dealing with contentious issues on maritime boundary, dams and barrages with our neighbors.

10. Lowering visa application fee: it has to be mutually done with Bangladesh govt. A high fee only helps the USA, and penalizes Bangladeshis and the family and friends of the NRBs desiring to visit the USA. Too few come to the Bangladesh who are Americans.

B. NRB (non-resident Bangladeshis) or Expatriate (from Bangladesh) Issues:
1. NRBs should be able to apply for dual citizenship like Israeli-Americans in this country.
2. They should be able to vote in national elections from the USA.
3. Bangladesh govt must be held accountable to safeguard their property rights in Bangladesh, esp. from deceased parents in matters of transfer of ownership.
4. Bangladeshis who had harmed NRBs cannot and should not get visa from the USA and its allies. They must be declared pariah or persona non-grata.
5. Job discrimination against NRBs must stop so that they are fairly and equally treated as valuable citizens in the USA for their work.
6. NRBs should be able to bring their immediate family members (spouse, children, parents, siblings) within the shortest possible time thereby ensuring family bondage and human rights of the loved ones.
7. NRBs should be able to bring their family asset/wealth without much restriction to their adopted country. Those emigrating must be able to bring as much money as he/she has so that all other illegal means of money laundering are stopped for good. A govt to govt agreement is necessary here to facilitate such a process. Similarly, when an NRB decides to invest in Bangladesh, there should not be any restriction either from the USA on such gainful, legal business ventures. The overall process need to be transparent, reciprocal and easy for the age of global economy we live in.
8. Visa fee for movement to Bangladesh ought to be waived for the NRBs.