An Indian family recalls the horrors of visa applications and rejections in Trump’s America.
As told to Zofeen Maqsood
When the Chettiar family from India’s technology hub Bengaluru arrived in the U.S. in 2016, they had big hopes and aspirations about a brighter future.
Chettiar worked with a client for his parent company in India, in a suburban city of Connecticut. The family mingled with locals and immigrants in the vicinity and quickly took a liking to the city.
In 2017, wife Prema got pregnant with the couple’s first child and they eagerly looked forward to a new addition to the family. However, the couple were not aware that a challenging and emotionally draining visa nightmare awaited them.
In the spring of 2018, Prema had a medical complication and she was admitted for a premature delivery. The baby arrived in 26 weeks and had a long battle in the hospital.
While the family was undergoing the trauma of seeing a premature baby attached to various tubes and oxygen in the NICU, there was another blow to follow soon.
The family’s visa was expiring in a few months and the husbands’ firm had temporarily stopped extending any L-1 work visas for employees of international companies as they had faced many rejections in the past.
Talking to the American Bazaar, a visibly emotional Prema said, “The company feared that by continuing to file L-1 visas they would get a bad reputation as so many visas were getting rejected at that time.
“We were on crossroads because our baby was in intensive care and needed many weeks of treatment,” she said. “The baby was still on oxygen support, there was no way we could take her out of hospital and travel back to our country.”
“But at the same time, if the company did not process our visa, we would go out-of-status in the country and would be living illegally,” Prema said.
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The couple said that while they had been hearing stories about unfair visa rejections and RFEs (Request for Evidence), when they faced the situation first hand, they truly understood the enormity of the problem.
“My husband is a high-skilled professional, we are tax-paying, law-abiding individuals who add to the economy of the country, but here we were on the threshold of becoming out-of-status at a time when we were at the most vulnerable,” Prema said.
Due to the ongoing situation with high-skilled professional visas, there was a lot of apprehension among employers too to extend or apply visas for their deserving employees too, they said.
“We began thinking of other possibilities and we also thought of applying for visitor visas to the US,” Prema said. “A friend offered to accommodate us in her home till the baby was fit to travel back to India.”
“But then, being out-of-job would also mean that we wouldn’t be able to afford the prohibitive medical costs of the baby’s treatment. It was around this time that we thought of raising funds through Go Fund Me.”
“It was a nightmarish situation,” Prema said. “The doctors in the hospital also told us that many other families on work visas had to undergo similar struggles because their visas were rejected or not extended even while they were battling medical emergencies.”
The Chettiar couple then sought the help of immigration forums and lawyers who advised them to obtain a letter from the hospital stating the medical attention the baby required and that she was unfit to travel outside the country.
At their request the company’s attorney also agreed to get their visa application processed on an exceptional basis. But just as the couple thought their woes were over, they received an RFE.
“It was another challenging situation,” said Prema. “We feared that if the visa was rejected our baby would suffer and her health was of utmost importance to us. However, after the hiccups, the family was able to get their visa.”
There were still some struggles as the company shifted Prema’s husband to far-off Kentucky for deputation with another client. This meant that Prema was left alone to look after the baby who was still in NICU.
Without a driving license, she had to rely on public transport to take her to hospital. She also took up a paying guest accommodation near the hospital so that she could be with the baby as much as possible.
Their story of struggle through the visa process showed them first-hand how many families are undergoing hardships because of this unnecessary scrutiny and rejections, Chettiars said.
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During their baby’s treatment, they also declined many early intervention benefits that their premature baby was eligible for simply because they feared that tomorrow if they applied for a green card these benefits might be held against them.
“Today the past is behind us but we do not wish any other family to go through trials such as these. Visa process in the US has become a cruel joke and there are lives at stake,” Chettiars said.
The family hopes that authorities take note of real situations such as theirs and do not let innocent families suffer just because they chose to work in America.
(Some names and places have been changed at the family’s request to maintain their baby’s anonymity.)