Mumbai-born Netra Chavan shares the story of how she used the pain and frustration of sitting and watching her glorious working years go by to build a support system for H4 and H-1B visa holders.
An H-1B visa allows US employers to temporarily hire foreigners in specialty occupations. Once considered a shining symbol of the American Dream amongst South Asians, today the coveted visa has lost much of its sheen. With the current administrations’ hardline approach toward immigrant workers, the H-1B aspirants are feeling dejected. The Green Card back log and H4 EAD reversal are among other fears that continually dog hard-working, tax-paying H-1B visa holders who once came to America with stars in their eyes.
In this new series, the American Bazaar speaks to H-1B and H4 visa holders to know first-hand what it means to live amidst a cycle of uncertainty and despair.
This week, we speak to San Jose, California, -based based Netra Chavan, who was on an H4 visa for 11 long years before getting her Green Card. While she lost her precious professional years and a promising management career to the decade long wait, Chavan used her frustration to build a solid support system for people like her. She formed the Facebook group, “H4 and H-1B Visa Holders” in 2009, which today boasts more than 52,000 growing members. Chavan is a very vocal H-1B and H4 visa advocate, who has taken part in numerous events and rallies and met several of members of Congressmen to sharing with them the plights of H-1B and H4 visa holders.
For the first time, Chavan shares with our readers her journey from being a hopeful H4 visa holder in the United States to a fiery and wise voice in the visa community:
I, Netra Chavan, was born and brought up in Mumbai and had a successful career in business development and management before I came to the United States in 2006 on a H4 visa. While I was aware that as an H4 visa holder, I wouldn’t be authorized to work, I took the leap, nonetheless, as I had great hope in the American system. I believed that the tenure would be short and I would get many opportunities to learn and grow in the land of dreams during this period.
America, the land of dreams?
I took the initial boredom and loneliness in my stride, but slowly I began realizing that my wait could be very long, due to the green card backlog especially for the non-immigrants from India (the H-1B holders), who had filed their Green Card under the employment based category. As years went by, my fear of losing my identity and my professional skills seemed real. The archaic law that prevented H4 holders and spouses of H-1B visa holders to work meant that my resume would look blank for years to come. The pain of sitting and watching your glorious working years go by was incomparable and the argument that the government has given us the privilege of family union seemed useless. Right to work is a basic right and when an adult, sensible, educated professional is barred from it the magnitude of helplessness huge. During those years, I would longingly look at H4 holders from other nationalities whose path to citizenship was quick and they were back in the workforce. Often, I wondered if this was the great America people dreamt of. It seemed to me like a small village where real talent had no value.
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H4 visa holders, a minority group in the United States, have been ignored by the government for decades. In 2009, I gathered some strength and began looking at meaningful voluntary work. To my dismay, I was told I could not even do that in most places as the US government does not issue Social Security Number to H4 visa holders. Immigration attorneys told me that I could not even work for remote employers in foreign countries and earn foreign currency while physically being in United States. During this wait period, we had many setbacks. My husbands’ savings took a big dent as he had to bear the financial burden alone including unforeseen huge medical bills and expenses during my pregnancy.
One day, back in 2009, sitting alone and idle at home, I realized that the only strength I had was the Internet. I was certain that there were thousands like me who were bearing the brunt of an unfair immigration system. I felt that the H4 visa community is always directly or indirectly affected with the challenges the H-1B visa holder undergoes, hence I formed a Facebook group in 2009 to be a moral support and to share or resolve any doubts H4 community may have. In 2015, under the Obama administration, when H4 EAD rule was approved for limited H4 visa holders, I changed the group name to “H4 and H-1B visa holders.” I can proudly say that my group has today 52000+ members and we have this unique support community. The group is for me a channel to preserve my professionalism, which otherwise, would have been lost by now, courtesy H4 visa rules. Finally, in 2017, after a long wait of 11 years, we became permanent residents of the United States, and today I am self-employed having a complete happy family of two kids, my spouse and of course, the Green Card! The waiting is over for us but not for many H4 spouses’ families who are still struggling to be financially independent.
Today the biggest concern of more than 300,000 Indian nationals in the United States is, till they get permanent residence card they cannot consider America as their home, even after being here legally and peacefully serving this country for decades.
The new challenges
After the Trump administration introduced the “Buy American Hire American [BAHA] Executive Order,” many Americans began considering the H-1B community as big threat to the US labor market. This had a significant impact on the H-1B/H4 visa holders, especially on hundreds of thousands of well-qualified and talented H-1B/H4-EAD Indian employees — who received their visas based on merit. They have been here for more than a decade and are patiently waiting for Green Card, while being are stuck in cycle of infinite H-1B visa extensions. Now they are being subjected to cumbersome and exhaustive documentation gathering process for their Amendment I-140’s, Extensions, transfer petition approvals. They get less than one year of H-1B extensions, meaning they have to repeat the same process to maintain valid status. It is a hectic and uncertain move for the entire family.
Instead of strengthening the H-1B program to prevent any fraud, today the entire H-1B community is considered as fraud by BAHA followers and we see this hatred directed towards us in posters and social media.
I hope the USCIS and US government will fix the broken US immigration system instead of jeopardizing talented lives and career in this endless wait.
(As told to Zofeen Maqsood.)