New York: Natasha Bhat learned in late February that her father-in-law had suddenly died. Bhat, 35, recently recalled how she grabbed a backpack and hustled her U.S.-born 4-year-old son to the San Francisco airport to catch a midnight flight to India, her home country. She didn’t anticipate being stuck there indefinitely.
Bhat works at a tech company in Silicon Valley on an H-1B visa, and her documents were due for renewal. So she threw them in the bag, knowing she’d have to get the chore taken care of before flying back to the U.S. in a few weeks. But she said her mid-March appointment at the U.S. consulate in Kolkata was canceled when it shut down due to Covid-19 concerns. Her return home was delayed further when President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week barring many people on several types of visas, including H-1Bs, from entering the country until 2021.
Trump’s executive order is the latest step in his years-long tightening of U.S. immigration policy. The president has argued since taking office the visa programs allow employers to undercut native-born workers on wages, over the objections of companies that say they need highly skilled workers to fill crucial job openings. The latest restrictions, said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis, “use the pandemic as an excuse to achieve anti-immigration goals the administration has wanted to do for years.”
H-1B holders, about three-quarters of whom work in the tech sector, have felt a creeping sense of unease since Trump took office. Still, thousands of them continued to fly back and forth between the U.S. and their home countries, for weddings or funerals—or for work assignments or to get mundane paperwork taken care of. (Some visas require people to leave the country briefly after approval to get their passports stamped.) Many of those who left the U.S. this spring, as Bhat did, found the world as they knew it changed mid-trip.
About 375,000 temporary visaholders and green card applicants will now be banned from entering the U.S. until next year, according to Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group. A significant number of those are now stuck in India, which has long had a close connection to Silicon Valley. The technology industry has consistently objected to the administration’s immigration restrictions, and Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Twitter Inc. immediately condemned the latest executive order, along with trade groups representing hundreds of other technology firms.
Indian tech companies have also urged the administration to reconsider its latest move. A major trade group from the country called it ” misguided and harmful to the U.S. economy.” Some Indian IT companies are considering alternatives to placing people on-site with U.S. clients, such as creating clusters of workers in countries like Mexico or Canada.
The objections haven’t spared people like Bhat and her husband, who have worked in Silicon Valley for the last nine years, she as a manager for a software firm and he as an engineer at a bank. Her husband flew back to the U.S. in early March for work and has spent the past four months of lockdown alone. Bhat is now working overnight to support her U.S.-based clients, and trying to convince their son Adhrit to eat Indian food like chapati for breakfast over his complaints that he misses his standard Californian breakfast of avocado toast.
Also read: Why Trump’s suspension of H1B and other work visas will kill innovation
The prospect of a wave of people stranded abroad began worrying Siskind several weeks ago when he first caught wind of the planned order. On Twitter, he warned workers on non-immigrant visas not to leave the U.S. He urged those abroad to come back as soon as possible.
Once the order took effect, Siskind set up an online form for people to share their stories, and asked his followers on social media to fill it out. Within 24 hours, he had over 500 responses. There was the scientist researching coronavirus-testing products who flew to India to get married, the Atlanta-based IT consultant who may miss the birth of his child, the 2-year-old girl who was born in the U.S. and has developed severe allergic skin reactions to mosquito bites in India, the Intel Corp. employee who is now running critical projects from afar.
Siskind fielded calls from husbands separated from wives, parents from children. People told him they were worried about keeping up with mortgage payments on houses, car loans and jobs. Some had U.S.-born children who are American citizens enrolled in U.S. schools. Many have valid visas and assumed all they would need to get back in the country was a routine stamp in their passport.
Narendra Singh, an Indian-born software architect who has lived in Dallas for nine years, took his family back to Kolkata, India, in February. Their return was delayed when the consulates closed and they were advised to wait out the worst of the pandemic. Now Singh is working remotely. His wife, a software engineer, lost her job in April. Their daughter, a U.S. citizen, was slated to start preschool in the fall, but they’ve been preparing her for the possibility that won’t happen. Singh, 36, said he knew there was always a chance of his visa not being extended, but assumed he was secure until his current visa was set to expire in 2022. “We took specialized jobs, we followed the rules, we got the visas,” he said. “I just feel betrayed.”
Mili Widhani Khatter, 39, who has lived in the U.S. with her husband and two U.S.-born children for the past 12 years, flew back to Delhi, India, without her family to say goodbye to her dying mother. She hasn’t seen her children in nearly four months, and said her 2-year-old son has forgotten how to say “mama” since they’ve been apart. “This is the worst punishment you can give to a mom,” Khatter said. “It’s not humane.”
Now families worry what another six months of uncertainty will do to their kids—and to the futures they thought they were charting. “I have a valid visa. I’ve been living in the Bay Area for eight years. I have a life there and a home there, and my husband is there,” Bhat said. “Will I ever be able to go back?” – Bloomberg
Also read: How Trump’s H1B visa freeze endangers Indian IT industry’s talent deployment model
This article make me puke, especially H1b worker kid cannot eat chappathi!! Too much drama. ! I live in USA but still consider India as my own country. If these people cannot stay in USA together, they should just leave USA and go settle India rather than complaining. Trump is one of the best presidents USA has seen, but he has to take care of Americans first and he is doing it well. H1B people are considered non-immigrants and they should live like that until they get at least some sort of permanency.
I can relate with this so much. I got married last December. My husband holds a H1B visa and works in US. I was planning to stay back in India to finish my Master’s degree, final semester. He left soon after marriage. And now, my exam schedule, prospects of meeting him any time sooner, everything is at stake! We hardly spent a month together. And now it’s almost half a year and God knows how many more months to see him!
millions of indians have not even seen usa for one day.
1. Natasha Bhat should feel greatful for the 9 years she, her husband and the kid enjoyed in usa and the ton of money they earned in dollars.
2. Natasha should call her husband on the phone, tell him to quit his job and come back to india with the ton of dollars and live happily in kolkatta. (if they have not saved anything in 9 years, I guarantee they will not have one rupee with them, if they return to india after 50 years of working in usa.)
3. If they have assumed expensive house payments and luxury car payments beyond their capacity and still have obligations to pay, is it Trump’s fault that they overspent.
5. sitting in india and working remotely to usa clients and still earning in us dollars ( 1 us dollar = 75 Rs.) sitting from kolkatta, I do not know what they are complaining about.
6. May be she should see few more times, the video of out of state workers walking 1200 kms on expressways to reach native place, with out any money to buy food and hoping for charity.
7. Trump is the president of usa and he is not the president of India.
You are so absolutely correct. Bhat and others like her think of themselves already as “US Citizens” and are puzzled why they cannot go in and out of USA like US Citizens!! They do not even have a plan B in case something like this happens on their fragile H1B visa. They produce anchor babies in USA but I am so glad that these people cannot get immigration benefits from their anchor babies until they turn 21 years old. My guess is these people live the lavish american lifestyle and save very little money. Serves them right.
JUST STAY TOGETHER AS A FAMILY, IT DOES NOT MATTER USA OR INDIA. BOTH ARE SAME, NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN FAMILY.
Indians are really smart but creeps. The first Indians do after getting H1B visa is to get married or already married ones just wait to get visa and then precreate as soon as possible in USA so that at least their children gets American citizenship.
Seriously? Stuck in their own country now, are they? And the Bhat woman can’t find bread and avocados in India? And, anyway, what is wrong with eating a chapati? At least, her son is getting that. There are many people in India who are having a hard time even affording that. Perhaps she should grab this chance to teach her son to stop whining and be grateful that this country even allowed them in.
My condition is also same as one of above story… 1st week of feb I came to India with my 2 years daughter. Because of Covid I couldn’t go for stamping. Now trump has banned stamping for this year…
Please. We have bigger problems than H1-B.
I do not understand how Mr. Trump became a great friend of our Prime Minister. A few days back we have seen both of them embracing each other (initiative seemed to be mainly from our Prime Minister) and moving together with hand in hand in Houston stadium . Indians have not been benefited by him in any way. The Indians in USA with H1B visa are plunged into uncertainty and they have been passing through anxiety and worries for some time. We know the treatment meted out to the American children of Mexican parents by Mr. Trump and his associates. Recently, USA Supreme Court by a judgement nullified his action. Trump is a demagogue and narcissist . His statements on different occasions were shallow and irresponsible . This man is unworthy to be president of a country like USA. Due to his policies, lakhs of people died from covid 19 in USA . Today USA is a country without any dependable friend. Our government in India should react suitably to Trump’s action. Our Government must disclose to our people the benefits derived by India from USA. To befriend USA we may lose Russia who is our friend in need.
A no-brainer which apparently never occurred to Bhat, terming chapatis “tortillas — ABSOLUTELY FRESH” — with stuffing of pesalu or potatoes, term it a “burrito”!
‘H-1B holders, about three-quarters of whom work in the tech sector, have felt a creeping sense of unease since Trump took office. ‘
The IT professionals have contributed to the rise of BJP;s Hindu fascism in India. This is the same lot who supported Trump as he was close to Modi. Trump has two policies : one for Modi as he buys armaments and one for Indian labour.
They simply have to choose what’s important to them, career/money or family.
sab changa c. why doesnt Mr Prime minister come and tell Trump: Tu aisa kyu karta hai… It is failed diplomacy and Indian government is not doing anything.
How can Indian govt. demand another country to take your citizens ? Especially when we have New India. These people should be in India and support Modi. There are plenty of opportunities created in New India. They can find employment in RSS, be cow vigilantes etc.
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