Interview with Dolica Gopisetty, 21, who did not let immigration roadblocks dampen her determination.
While most youngsters look forward to their 21st birthday with great excitement, for Richmond, VA, -based Dolica Gopisetty, her 21st birthday brought along another not-so-welcome news. As the daughter of an H-1B visa holder from India, turning 21 last year also meant that Gopisetty would age out of her H4 dependent visa status.
As her family awaited their green cards, Dolica, as an aging out kid, lost her right to be in line for the green card. It also essentially meant she had to change her visa status to continue living in the country she grew up in.
While the blow was hard for Gopisetty to fathom, she did not let the troubles come in the way of her extraordinary career. Since aging out and switching to an F1 visa, she went on to become one of the youngest AWS Solutions Architect Certifiers in the country.
ALSO READ: H4 visa: a primer
The tech activist and an information technology student at George Mason University was also invited to be a tech panelist at the recently concluded AWS Summit in Washington, DC.
The youngest panelist at the AWS Summit, Gopisetty, who is from Hyderabad, was an inspiration for children of millions of immigrants in the country.
In an interview with the American Bazaar, she shares her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your family and your growing up years in the US. As a young adult and on H4 visa in the US, what were the challenges you faced?
I, along with my family, moved to the United States in 2005, when I was around 7 years old. I was very young when we moved to the country and felt this country to be my home ever since. I completed my elementary school in Columbia, South Carolina. We moved to Richmond, VA, in 2008 and I completed my middle and high school in Richmond. I am currently pursuing my Bachelor of Science degree in IT in Fairfax, VA.
Throughout our life in the United States, I have seen my parents maintaining our legal status by extending visas. This is because our legal status in incorporated with other daily legalities, such as our driver’s license. Our driver’s license expiry date is based on our visa validity. My mother is the primary applicant on H-1B, and I was on H4 (dependent visa). Our Priority date is 2013. As an H4 applicant, I was legally not allowed to work full time or as an intern. I did not have a source of income, like my fellow classmates. There are not any voluntary opportunities available in my career path. To work in the corporate world, which is where I want to head, I must legally have work authorization. In addition, I was not eligible for a lot of scholarship opportunities and aid. I have an ITN — Tax ID Number — and I do not have a Social Security Number. My parents were paying thousands and thousands of dollars for my college tuition and were not able to file tax returns.
Talk to us about your emotional journey of aging out of H4. What is it that you and your family went through and how did you cope up with this sudden change of status in your life?
As someone on H4 visa, I realized that I would not be able to be on my parent’s immigration file once I turn 21 years old. So, last year, when I turned 21, I knew I would have to change my status from H4 to student visa, or F1. But it wasn’t that simple, it also meant, I would have to find a sponsor for my H-1B and repeat the process my parents went through.
It also meant that I would be on a temporary status for ever as the backlog number is getting bigger every day, and it will take a long time for everyone to receive their green card.
ALSO READ: The H4 visa conundrum
If I do find a sponsor for my H1B, it will be challenging for me to compete with other competitive individuals, whose resumes will have prior experience, and mine will not. I was always told that the United States of America is a land of opportunities. After living here for almost 12 years, I am eagerly looking forward to receiving my green card soon to achieve my goals and succeed in life. I hope we are heard and our stories will help the law makers understand the hardship immigrants go through.
Tell us about your current status and how paying international student fees seems unfair for someone who has spent most of her life in the US.
In August, I went to India and got my F1 stamped. At that time, I did not feel anything emotionally or mentally. Because at that time, I just wanted to come back to the country legally that I call home, and did not take the time to think about what is coming my way. After coming back, I was happy. I felt I was at home. Of course, it was natural because the US is the place I grew up and spent majority of my life. It’s impossible to think of any other place as home. But once here, a few days later, I received an email from George Mason University, an email that included my tuition bill of almost $20,000 for one semester. My first three years of college, I was used to paying close to $6,500 and seeing a bill that was three times the amount I normally pay gave a huge heart drop to our family. As my father cannot work due to his dependent status, my mother is the only person that struggled to gather the necessary amount and help me through my education. When I came back to the country, I was allowed to do a part-time job. But, with no experience, no one was ready to give me a part-time job. After so much struggle, I was finally able to get a part-time job that was sufficient for my rent alone. Till date, it feels like the country I call home does not want me to call it my home. I have given my entire life to this country, yet I am not able to call this place my home due to my residency struggle. There are so many countries that grant residency and citizenship after a few years of their stay. I have been in this country for almost 14 to 15 years and I am still a non-resident alien, which to me, is unfair. I have been a Virginian for 10 years and an American for 14 to 15 years of my life. I deserve to be a resident and a citizen of Virginia and the United States of America. I believe and strongly wish that the country should grant some sort of residency to individuals who have lived in this country, legally, for the majority of their life.
You have been a tech activist for women and just spoke at the AWS Summit. Tell us more on that.
I was invited to be a speaker at the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. When I heard about it, initially, I did not believe it myself and was not able to digest the fact that I was invited. I spoke about how Cloud Computing is essential to our learning and how it can be beneficial in our lives. More importantly, I discussed how important it is for kids in school to get their hands on the latest technologies. I want to empower Women in STEM and I will always advocate for Women to be in STEM. This is due to the immense creativity women have and we must appreciate and recognize this. Women are extremely capable of doing wonderful things but due to obligations that arise after marriage or other commitments, most women opt out of it. Thus, leading to a low percentage of Women in STEM. Women are known for style, innovative, creativity, multitasking, commitment, and uniqueness. Imagine if women were in various fields, then how colorful and unique our world would become.
From your experiences, what would you say about the immigration laws in the country?
I just wish and dream to get my residency and citizenship through my hard work and call this place my home. I have given so much of myself to the country. Of course, the country has given me and my family a great amount of opportunities as well. But, at the end of the day, we are still living in fear without being able to call this place I live in, my home. I cannot really speak about how or in what way the law should be formed. But I can just say that after living in this country for 14 to 15 years, I deserve to stay here as a resident, and soon a citizen of Virginia and the United States of America, and be able call this place my home.