Image Author: Nick Yougson http://www.nyphotographic.com
Anand Rangarej Technologist, Art enthusiast,Reader of History and Cultures, Political Troll
As a fresh graduate in India in the late nineties, we often heard stories of our seniors immigrating to the USA for jobs and career. Those were the days of Y2K (Year 2000) and if one were to believe the news, the last day of the year 2000 would bring a big catastrophe when all systems and machines in the world running on software would fail because of the Y2K programming bug — Airplanes wouldn’t fly, satellites would stop processing signals, ships wouldn’t sail, missiles and anti missiles wouldn’t fire, power grids would fail, in short mankind would be pushed to an unrecoverable disaster. The world was waiting in fear of the dooms day. Everyone seemed to be at war to avert this catastrophe. Just like the war-heroes in the Hollywood movies arm themselves to fight aliens to save the world, the world of Engineers had armed itself to fight the Y2K bug. Being the epicenter of this crisis, the USA was the number one destination for these tech warriors. The rewards of fighting this crisis were extremely high — lucrative pay and a great career in the USA. Every Engineer — be it Electrical, Chemical or Metallurgical, was attracted to this rewarding opportunity and wanted to take off to the USA.
“Like the war-heroes in a Hollywood movie arm themselves to fight an alien to save the world, the world of Engineers armed themselves to fight the Y2K bug.”
The Y2K threat was averted and was soon followed by the new DotCom craze. Everyone wanted to build a DotCom. So demand for programmers building a DotCom increased immensely in the USA, adding more to the already set trend of seeking careers in the USA. No one wanted to miss this new boat of opportunities. A fat paycheck , beer mugs and free style American life was all attractive. The chance to realize the American dream that DotCom brought, led Engineers from all streams to join the IT bandwagon and head to the USA. Thanks to the innovations in internet technology, the largest number of immigration happened during the late nineties and early 2000 from developing countries like India. The immigrants who came to the USA during this time settled soon, thanks to the quick immigration process and companies willing to sponsor. Legal immigrants got their resident status quickly, were able to establish businesses, and prosper soon.
Those who aspire to live and settle in the USA need to file the Green Card through a sponsoring company, typically a IT consulting firm. Once filed for a green card, the visa rules restrict employees from changing their company during the time of processing. That means an employee is stuck with the sponsoring company and its terms until he gets his green card or until he reaches a stage in the green card process when he can change the employer. Lots of employers exploit this situation by offering meager pays, bad benefits, or no benefits at all to the employees. Some notorious employers even hold back immigration documents of employees so that they do not transfer their H1 to other companies and some do not pay salaries on time. Only under certain cases an employee can change his job, but such an option comes with its own risks. So most people refrain from changing jobs. H1 visas are meant for specialty occupation, so an employee has to continue in the role in which the H1 was filed under. If a worker’s H1 is filed as a software developer, he has to, in most cases, continue in the same role until he gets the green card. This seals his career progress, since any change to the role has to be amended in the H1 filing by the sponsor company and approved by the visa authority. That again comes with a risk of rejection. Employers avoid taking that risk. This is a serious setback for aspiring employees looking for career growth beyond the programmer role.
The work visa also limits what the visa holder can do and cannot. Travel is restricted outside of the USA, so, a visa worker wishing to visit other countries for vacation or business cannot do so. H1 holders cannot own a business. Procuring a loan and buying a house poses a challenge since lenders look for the term and validity of the visa. Visiting home country to meet family and friends is another pain. Every visit to the home country for vacation cuts down the days spent on visa interviews at the US embassy. There is also the fear of visa rejection and subsequently not being able to return back to the USA. My friend’s visa was rejected when he and his family were in India for his brother’s wedding and had to go for visa stamping during the visit. He could not come back to the US and had to let go of his house, car and other belongings in the USA. In another case, a friend visiting his ailing parent in India couldn’t return back to the USA, his wife and kids in the USA had to leave immediately without any option. Another friend living in the USA for over 18 years had to abruptly leave the country because his H1 wasn’t renewed. A few others have not been able to visit their families in India since a decade because of other visa issues. There are many other horror stories like these.
Many companies today do not accept H1 holders for direct employment but only green card holders or citizens. Many job listings specifically mention employment only for green card holders or citizens. I have personally got numerous responses from recruiters refusing consideration for employment because of visa status. Companies just do not want to deal with the hassles of visa processing under the current political environment where someone wants to make “America great again” by stopping immigrants. Today many Americans seem to forget that the USA was built and made prosperous by the immigrants themselves but still think immigrants are stealing away their jobs. How can America become great without immigrants?
“Companies just do not want to deal with the hassles of visa processing under the current political environment where someone wants to make America great again by stopping immigrants”
It is disheartening, when one has higher degrees, certifications and experience, but is still rejected because of his immigration status. Do they forget that the visa workers contribute to the taxes and social benefits of the USA? — One of the highest tax paying sections of the USA is the non resident immigrants working on work visas. Key leadership or strategic positions in a company are almost always not deemed fit for H1 visa holders, this is another bitter truth. I have not come across any leader or head of a company on an H1 visa in my career so far. Without the proper residence status many such career options are closed. Like a bird locked in a cage with no way to fly, the visa worker is locked with no options to fly high in his career
The unfortunate event of 911 in 2001 changed things, visa rules and restrictions got stricter, leading to backlogs of immigration applications. Late 2000, the USA reeled under severe recession over several years slowing down the processing of immigration applications even further. Over the years the immigration backlog kept piling up. Hopes of getting the residency became bleak. The government also seemed unwilling to clear the backlog and streamline the immigration process. Fast forward a decade later, things have not changed. The road to legal residency still looks murkier and seems leading nowhere.
“The current trend shows it will take 50 years to get the green card. That means someone applying for a green card today will obtain it at the time of his retirement or past it.”
Like a desperate horse running in the hope of grabbing the carrot tied before it, legal immigrants have been waiting for the green card for years. This is the fate of tax paying , law abiding , highly educated immigrants and we are not even talking about the plight of illegal immigrants. The current trend shows it will take 50 years to get the green card. That means someone applying for a green card today will obtain it at the time of his retirement or past it, at an age when one has little energy and enthusiasm left for a career. The golden years to build a career would have already gone past by that time. Not everyone can be Colonel Sanders after retirement. Because of the uncertainty and delay, many people cannot take important decisions in life, such as buying a house, planning travel or investing in business. I lost the company of several good friends living in the USA who moved to Canada, Australia or back to India because of the frustrating wait for a green card and inability to make a career or run a business. All these limitations in career for immigrants makes one think, whether chasing a career in America is really worth? A bright career in the USA is hard to realize , an illusion, unless you have the legal residency.
Today countries such as India and China are on the path of rapid economic development, it was not the case a few decades back. Earlier, opportunities were limited and many people had to seek careers in the USA owing to abundant opportunities in the USA. Today there are plenty of career opportunities back home envying the careers in the US. There is development in almost every area, be it infrastructure, IT, Energy, Agriculture or Solar, so there are numerous opportunities in every sector. Given such opportunities it makes no sense for new graduates and career seekers to immigrate to the US, only to waste their precious years of professional lives waiting for legal residency in the USA. Many aspiring Indian students go to USA for higher studies spending tonnes of money on fees to American universities, in the hope of making a successful career after graduation. However, things start getting tough for such students once out of college. They struggle getting sponsors for H1 for job. Getting a good paying job even after getting good grades and spending on college becomes challenging. Cases where such aspiring students had to return back home for lack of proper opportunities are many. In seeking career in the USA and the subsequent wait that comes with it, one does not realize what one loses back home — care and love of parents staying away, good times that would be spent with extended families and friends, opportunities to grow and also contribute to his country’s growth, all the beautiful festivities, among many others things. If someone plans to immigrate to the USA, it is time to think, not twice, but several times, is it really worth chasing a career in the USA as a immigrant?
Immigration is a natural phenomenon, often driven by prospects of jobs and career in professional life, but what is it worth if it takes away the same precious years of professional life?