By Roopal Jain, Saheli Volunteer
Saheli came to me as blessing after six months of regressive failures in finding anything productive to do. In India, I was a Software Engineer who was determined to have a stable career in the IT industry, and who wanted to be self-dependent. But after I got married and my husband got a job in the United Sates, my career prospects changed dramatically. Fortunately or unfortunately, as I will explain later, I got my visa stamped at the very first attempt. So, I flew with my hubby to be a part of the American Dream where freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success for one and all, achieved through hard work. This idea is true to a great extent, as I encountered the clean, wide roads, great commute facilities, friendly people, independent work style, portable things, easy looking life and all sorts of facilities. However, soon I learned that appearances can be deceiving.
My first few months in the United States flew by as we looked for a place to live and came to understand the norms and conditions of this new country. Then another problem began which I only really began to understand once I was subjected to it. A spouse CAN’T work on an H4 visa in the United States. The American Dream, it turned out, didn’t incorporate the dreams of immigrant’s wives, H4 holders like me. I was more amazed when I learned that the wives of L1 visa holders can work very comfortably in this country.
I still am searching for a fitting justification as to this discrepancy in visas and what is allowed and not allowed. To me it looks unjust. Yes, very unjust. Though recently thousands of H4 holders have benefited from a rule change that allows H4 holder to be granted a work permit, this exception is only allowed under certain condition. These exceptions include:
- Approved I-140 pf H1B Spouse
- H1B Visa period is extended beyond 6 years limits via AC 21 Law.
Yet, the question remains why be unjust towards only H4 visa holders? Spouses like me are not even eligible for paid volunteering. No one wants to leave their own nation and roots but some have to do so to secure their futures. But what remains unanswered is how and what am I supposed to do to support myself, my career, my family. I am fortunate that my husband is very supportive and encourages me to pursue my interests, but I feel guilty not being able to help my family economically. Also when my husband is at work, his mind is always occupied with the fact that I am alone at home having nothing productive to do. Those restrictions on my H4 Visa are killing a pool of talent within the world.
Seeing L2 holders work and H4 Visa Holder not being able to do so brings a great dismay. The American dream is already difficult to achieve by immigrant communities, but with these restrictions on not being able to work and achieve economic security, this dream is even more difficult to achieve.
It can be dangerous for those immigrant women who are also survivors of domestic violence. In India I have seen many women suffer from domestic violence and I used to wonder why those women bear the atrocity of their abusive husband, in-laws and also many times from their own family. Why didn’t they just leave? Why didn’t they seek their own self-sufficiency? I realized that it all summed up to the fact that many times these women depend on their abusive partners or family member for even their daily bread and butter, and hence they couldn’t leave them. After coming to the United States, I now understand that many women who are abused here can’t leave their husbands or family as they are on dependent visas and if they do try to leave, they might not have any place to go, so they surrender to their situations. The injustice of the visa system keeps them entrenched in their domestic violence situation.
Yet, even if these women return to India, like I myself plan to at some point, they like me will lag behind everyone else who is working today.
Almost 1.5 million engineering students graduate each year and these students have a fresher perspective, are more skilled with newer technologies and most importantly have gained the time and experience that will put them ahead of anyone who is unable to work due to the injustice of the visa system.
Until things change, I am keeping my hopes high, volunteering, of course unpaid, cooking a variety of food to enhance my culinary skills, reading books, articles, visiting places and hoping to get a slight ray of hope that I too can partake in the American Dream.
About the Author: