On H4, trapped in loneliness

A move from education to employment in the US, which is usually through securing an H1B visa, is tough.

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh

A move from education to employment in the US, which is usually through securing an H1B visa, is tough. H1B is a non-immigrant visa requiring employer sponsorship which essentially ties the recipient to the job for the sake of residency in the country. An H4 visa —  work permit for such visa holders is being rolled back— historically puts the recipients in an even tougher spot by providing a right to residency, but no path to jobs. 

In the US, the non-immigrant visa recipients are designated as “aliens” or “resident aliens”. Asian populations are the leading groups in holding high-skilled jobs through H1Bs. Their spouses and dependents are the primary recipients of H4. In the Indian diaspora, most women arrived on the H4 visa to support the spouse’s opportunity of working overseas. To bust the stereotyping, I often hear that not everyone moved here after an arranged marriage. Some of the women (and two men) I know were in long and steady relationships and when one person moved through an opportunity, the other followed to be together.

Now, there is a general sentiment I often face here on whether that should be made feasible in any country. Should there be a path to employment for anyone beyond the ones hired for their skills? Why should it be the receiving nation's obligation, especially at a cost to workers already here? I want to paint how this picture looks in real life, as that might provide the answers. 

 Here it goes —  a bright, young professional, often a woman, independent and satisfied — coming into a country where social isolation is high and getting stuck spending most weekdays in tremendous loneliness. Suddenly feeling unproductive, isolated, and lost and questioning self-worth. A professional associates self-identity with the job he or she holds. In the US — unless one is settled in the busy metro like NYC or Boston (or even then) — it’s even harder not to feel dejected.

Before the 2015 H4 EAD resolution, my relative declined an opportunity offered by his firm to visit the US because his wife wouldn’t be able to work. I have seen women do everything from threading and facial to cook etc. just to keep themselves occupied. They die inside a bit everyday remembering what they have left behind. It’s not about any job being more or less. It’s about working at the level of your skills and desires. Not having a route to that by compulsion is devastating.

 So, does the counter-argument— that opening up the job market to “aliens” displaces US workers as companies prefer to foreign workers with less pay — hold? Just two points to make on that:  According to US Bureau of Labour Statistics, US unemployment was marked at its lowest in five decades with over 6 million vacancies in September 2018. Imagine this against faces of folks who would do anything for a job — engineers, professionals, teachers and those all who have the skills, but no access. Or a US labour force which aspires for higher skilled jobs, but have no economical route to the right education.  Secondly, if corporations are motivated by cost, they will find a route to it. When cost control becomes inevitable and skill gaps can’t be filled, moving operations overseas is what most corporations choose. 

So, all that, especially for populations for whom the line to Green Card is too long, leads to an exodus from the US or a hard life of waiting in limbo (holding off decisions such as buying a house or having a child). 


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