In the past few decades, people have come here to pray for the ultimate golden ticket: Many of them are here for one visa in particular, The H-1B. The H-1B visa lets high skilled workers, from around the world, live and work in the US. And, it’s sort of legendary. Microsoft’s CEO was on the H-1B. Google’s CEO was on the H-1B. For many Indian techies, this visa is their way to access the American dream. But the reality for those whose prayers are answered, can be completely different. Because the story of the H-1B visa, isn’t just about single, Indian men migrating to the U.S. It’s about whole families moving. And for many of the wives of the H-1B holders, – I was so depressed. America isn’t the land of dreams. – I felt faceless and invisible. It’s career suicide. – It’s hard, you know, starting all over again. I’m Preeti Varathan. This is Quartz. Subscribe to our channel for more videos like this. This is Anamika Chandel. She grew up in Himachal, studied interior design, and worked in an architecture firm. She did her master’s in Florence. And then, at 23, she got married. – Have pancakes first. A few years later, Uday won an H-1B visa as a software engineer. So they moved to Iowa together. But for years, Anamika couldn’t legally work in the U.S. That’s because she was on something called the H-4 visa. The H-4 visa is a dependent visa given to the spouses of H-1B holders. And it comes with a pretty important catch — you can live in the U.S., but you can’t work here. You don’t get a social security number. And in many cases, it’s pretty difficult to open a bank account. – They’re economic dependents, they’re social dependents. This is Amy Bhatt. She’s spent the last decade researching the wives of H-1B workers. – They’re not able to necessarily have their own identities outside of the status of the H-1B worker himself. Amy says, this story is basically about Indian women. More than 70% of all H-1Bs go to Indians, and almost 80% of those go to men. So for the men who choose to come with their partners? They’re usually Indian women. – It’s not just that you’re in this dependent position, but you’re also losing out on the periods of time when you would have been building yourself. That’s a real blow to their ego and their sense of self. I talked to other women like Anamika and they all said the same thing. They have multiple degrees. – I got my masters, I have an MBA. And had thriving careers in India. – I was working with the largest publication house. But when they moved to America. – I felt useless to a great extent. Not being able to work was one of the worst experiences of their lives. – I was so depressed that I would sometimes just start crying. Anamika and Uday applied for green cards nine years ago, hoping that soon, Anamika would be able to work. But they’re still waiting. The green card backlog for Indians, in particular, is really really bad. The estimated wait time for Indians is anywhere between 12 to 150 years. So in theory, someone like Anamika could spend the rest of her life in jobless limbo. But in 2015, something changed. Pro-immigration and tech groups lobbied for these women to be able to work. So the Obama administration passed a rule that let some of them work. Basically, if the H-1B holder was far enough along in their green card application process, or had been in the states for more than six years, their spouse could apply for a work permit. – Oh my god I had never visited Sephora ever in my life, and ever since I started working here that’s become like my go-to place. This is Neha Mahajan. She wasn’t able to work for seven years. And then Neha qualified for a work permit. – I live for it. It doesn’t feel like a job to me. Neha hosts a debate show on TV Asia. – Welcome to Center Stage your show where we bring issues pertinent to our community. For a little over three decades, the H-1B guest worker program has allowed citizens… Neha says, being able to work completely changed her life. Like, she and her husband were able to buy a house. But all of this could change this year, because Neha might lose her right to work, again. Media outlets have been following the story. – The H-4 employees are able to work in the US under a provision of the visa that the government has indicated it may revoke. The anti-immigration group Save Jobs USA has filed a lawsuit saying the Obama rule makes it more likely that immigrants will steal American jobs. We talked to John Miano, the lawyer representing Save Jobs USA in this lawsuit. And the Trump administration is on board with gutting the program. – So we have this invisible sword hanging on top of our heads. We don’t know whether we’ll have the status tomorrow. About 100,000 spouses like Neha have gotten work permits. That’s less than 0.05% of the total working American population. So, why go after such a relatively small group? Amy also agrees that this is about self deportation. – Rather than have immigration policies that would push people out, you would make life so uncomfortable that they themselves would choose to leave. What we’re seeing is entire family units making the decision to leave the country. Remember Anamika and Uday? Three months ago, they decided to relocate to Toronto. Canada’s immigration system works pretty differently from the U.S.’s, especially for high skilled workers like Uday. – The good thing is it’s all transparent. You see what’s happening. The government is like “Yes, let’s, let’s do this.” And spouses like Anamika receive work permits right away. – I got off the airplane. I think it was my second customs official who handed me the work visa and I couldn’t believe it. That’s a big contrast to the US, where President Trump has been pretty opaque about the future of H-1B families. The Trump administration has explicitly gone after high-skilled workers. But Trump also tweeted that he wants to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S. So all of this insecurity has a lot of H-1B families thinking about other places, like Canada. – If things don’t work out here then we’re planning to move to Canada. -Canada is another very exciting avenue. – Canada is an option. All of these women are married to men on the H-1B. So if they leave, their partners will go, too. – What’s at stake here is actually much bigger than just whether or not you know a relatively small proportion of women can work. What’s at stake is the entire H-1B. To opponents, that’s good for American workers. One study found that competition from foreign workers Kept American computer scientists wages down. But other studies, show they’re not a drain at all. That overall, they boosted American economic growth and productivity. And an advocacy group for high-skilled immigrants estimated that high-skilled immigrants contribute around $22 billion to U.S. GDP every year. So the argument over whether these women should work, isn’t really about them at all. It’s about the future of the American economy. Hey, we’re making a series for
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