Moving from USA to Canada – Part 5: A Matter of Dignity & Integrity

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

This has been a long series of posts but please bear with me while I offer some final thoughts.

In the history of mankind, human beings have acted on something only after things got sufficiently bad. The inertia is so big that taking proactive measures is just not wired into our brains – or into all our institutions. It is certainly very true in my case and of those in similar situations. Though it might look proactive to some, we made the decision to move to Canada only after we went through sufficient hardships.

It would also be incorrect to simply point the blame at the Trump administration for making people like myself leave. What this administration has done is to simply take an already bad situation just beyond the tipping point. They took that narrow path of survival and made it more and more narrow – to a point where people like myself were forced to re-evaluate our lives and make the decision to leave out of our own choice.  And make no mistake, there are thousands of people like us in the US who are in the process of moving to Canada – unable to bear the burden of the long green card wait time. Every Indian I speak to who is in the same position I was, has either stated their intent to migrate to Canada or is already in the process of doing so. Some of our friends even made the move with us. Immigration status seems to be the default topic of discussion in any conversation between Indians living in the US.

Everyone is concerned for various reasons and yet there are many, many people who are seemingly content with where they are. There are even more who are not even in the US yet, but are looking forward to making a life there in the future without any knowledge of how things work there. With no sarcasm, I wish them all the very best and hope they find what they want.

As for Devanshi and I, we have landed on our feet after our move. After an initial struggle to find a job, she is now working and we are both finally living the lifestyle and routine we have been wanting to since our wedding. As much as that is satisfying, it would be incorrect to reduce our entire new lives in Canada to finding jobs and living together.

Fact is, this is the first time in almost a decade that we are not living on a temporary visa in a foreign country. In fact, it took several months for that to sink in. And truth be told, there is a certain sense of dignity and integrity that comes with being a permanent resident (and especially in not being classified as an ‘Alien’). This is something that can be truly appreciated only by those who have lived an extended period on a temporary visa in a foreign country. People who move to a new country and get their PR status within a short period of time (or beforehand) can easily take the associated privileges for granted – seeming like it was always meant to be. But it is only people like us – who have been made to struggle to find a sense of belonging, a place that lets us be who we want to be, and a place we can proudly call our new home – that can fully acknowledge and appreciate this paradigm shift in our circumstances.

Yes we could have tried to make it in the USA in some capacity if we really wanted to and if we had tried real hard. But ultimately, that just boiled down to us surviving. And we wanted to do a lot more than just surviving – we wanted to LIVE, and we wanted to live with dignity and to our fullest abilities with no shackles and no fear. And that is why we are very happy with our move to Canada and starting a new chapter in our lives.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 4: The Power of Complacency

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, we discussed the issues of living with fear and a lack of freedom in the US. Here, let us see what it is that keeps us here.

So, to repeat the question: If things are so bad living in a Green card backlog, how come there are still so many people willing to live under these circumstances?

The answer to that lies in the fact that, in spite of all the issues I have highlighted, there still remains a path to be in the US legally, work, grow professionally, and lead a good lifestyle WHILE waiting decades for your green card. Make no mistake, the path is definitely a narrow one, is getting more narrow every passing week, and it can terminate at any point – but it exists nonetheless. And therein lies the true answer to why so many of us still continue to live here in spite of all these constraints. In one word, the answer is COMPLACENCY.

We Indians are a truly complacent bunch. If things are going fine now, we are more than happy to simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is going to be just fine and dandy in the future as well. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we look the other way and sometimes truly believe that nothing is going to happen to us.

It might happen to others because others may have broken the rules somehow, but it would never happen to us because we have done everything by the book.

Not only are we complacent, we are also timid and naïve. Most of us live our lives truly believing ‘someone else’ is going to ‘do something about it’. It is actually mind-blowing to see most Indians blindly seek and follow the advice of the very people who have all the incentives to exploit them for their own selfish benefit (think lawyers, employers). Couple this naivete with the complacency, and you have a deadly recipe for exploiting an obliging workforce.

(I am happy to admit that, in the past several weeks, there is a noticeable uptick in the Indian involvement in demanding change and justice against this discrimination. But it is still a very small fraction of the total populace.)

Fact is I was no different until 2-3 years ago when I finally came out of the bubble after the 2016 election. The anti-immigrant rhetoric finally made me pause and ask myself some hard questions about where I was, what I wanted, what I could get and what I could lose in the future. By that time, I was also married and had to think of the wife’s freedoms as well. I came out of my complacency, but I was still in the same situation.

(That was when I joined Immigration Voice, a grassroots advocacy group, and started making my voice heard with the lawmakers. I learnt a lot about how the system works, how to bring about change, and the root cause of all the issues. Over the course of the next 2 years, I did my fair share of advocacy to get this issue fixed. To this day, that has been the best learning experience I have ever had. But that deserves a separate post in itself)

It started with my own concerns on if I would face any issues with my visa renewals. The administration was issuing new rules to process visa applications introducing new constraints on the renewals. I began to hear many cases of visa extensions being rejected for what were previously sure shot cases. I asked myself what I wanted to do 5-10 years down the line. Would I be happy with the roles I would be permitted in my career within the constraints of my green card petition? Or did I want something more? Do I want to live in one single place for the rest of my life or did I want to live in other cities in the future? How much was I willing to risk my career on the unpredictability of my visa extensions every 2-3 years? The answers were obvious.

I wanted more freedom and a life of far lesser fear and uncertainty – not the one I was going to be given if I stayed in the US. When it came to my wife, it was fairly direct. The administration stated explicitly that they intended to revoke the Spouse work permit in the coming year or two. We went from a wait and watch approach initially, to getting frustrated on just waiting for something – anything – to happen, to living with extreme amounts of uncertainty, and to finally realize that we actually didn’t need to and didn’t want to live like this in the first place.

We began to explore options for our move out of the US. We considered Canada, New Zealand and Australia. After deeply researching the immigration processes for each country and our own prospects there, we decided to make the plunge into Canada.  Even after that initial decision, there was still some hesitation on our part though. Perhaps things would get better here – after all we both still had our work permits and were working. The pull of complacency was real and, in hindsight, I feel it almost made us abandon our plans to move. But on that cold December day in southwest Kansas, after a bout of argument, we realized that we both really just wanted to live together. And as long as we were in the US, that was never actually guaranteed.

And THAT was when we made the final decision to not only move to Canada, but to also start acting on it. Act we did, and towards the end of August 2018, we received our permanent residency documents from Canada. I then told my company that I was moving to Canada, following which they offered me a position in their Toronto office. We crossed the border on the 9th of November and moved into our apartment the following week.

In my next and final post, I discuss my situation and the decision-making process with the power of hindsight. I also briefly talk about settling in Canada and what it means to finally be a ‘Permanent Resident’.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 3: (Abundance of) Fear and (Lack of) Freedom

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, I wrote about the specifics of how the legal, employment-based green card system works to discriminate against people from India. Here, I will highlight some of the issues we Indians face in decades long green card back logs.

Personally for Devanshi and I, at the crux of the whole situation, lay two basic ideas – fear and freedom. In our lives, we all want little to none of the former and an abundance of the latter. But the reality for people like us is quite the opposite. We live in the US with an abundance of fear while the freedoms we enjoy are significantly constrained by our immigration status. Let me start with fear.

The fear comes with knowing that if you are let go from your job (for whatever reasons), you literally have a few weeks to find a new employer who will hire you AND incur all the costs associated with the work visa. The fear comes with knowing that your kid who was born in India, and who moved and has lived with you in the US for over a decade, will have to leave the country once they turn 21. The fear comes with the knowledge that every time you apply to extend your visa, you can be denied without reason, forcing you to just simply up and leave this country for good – with all your family. The fear comes with the knowledge that you could be approved for an extension in the US but can still be denied a visa at the consulate in India – again without reason. The fear comes with knowing that you have to put up with your current work environment – however bad it may be – because you are unable to find another employer who will do all the paperwork and pay the fees to sponsor your visa. The fear comes with knowing that your spouse (predominantly women) live every day not knowing if they will lose their work permit – forcing them to stay home and feel worthless. The fear comes with the knowledge that even if you join a new employer who is willing to do the paperwork, your new green card petition from that new employer might still get denied, forcing you to simply up and leave the country for good – with all your family. The fear comes with the knowledge that every other year, your fate rests in the hands of immigration attorneys and their competency (or lack thereof) in filing the right paperwork by the right time. The fear comes with knowing that one small mistake by the immigration attorney can force you to simply up and leave the country with all your family. The fear comes with knowing that one small misdemeanor or felony – regardless of circumstance – pretty much spells the end of your stay in the country for you and your family. The fear lies in the knowledge that if something fatal were to happen to you, your spouse and kids immediately lose their immigration status and are no longer allowed to stay in the country. (Don’t you dare think the last one is an exaggeration).

Moving on to freedom, or lack thereof.

The lack of freedom is on display when you are unable to change jobs – even if you are being harassed or abused in your current job – just because of your visa requirements. The lack of freedom manifests in your inability to even change job descriptions within the same company if your education was not in the same specific field. The lack of freedom is for you to see when you cannot get promoted to a position that is inconsistent with your green card petition. You will know your lack of freedom when a junior foreign worker from a different country surpasses you in seniority just because they got their green card and you haven’t. Your lack of freedom is there to see when you are unable to travel back to India for a funeral because your visa extension application is still pending. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to register any intellectual property in your name. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to start and open your own medical practice if you are a doctor. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to quit your job and start your own business, company or non-profit. Your lack of freedom is on display when you realize you cannot take up another job – in addition to your day job – to make ends meet during emergencies. The lack of freedom manifests as your spouse’s inability to work anywhere if you are not already approved for a green card – forcing them to be a homemaker even if they are highly educated. The lack of freedom lies in your inability to relocate to a different city because your green card petition is tied to your current city. Your lack of freedom lies in not knowing if you will be able to legally drive every other year when your visa extension is in process.

Like I said, an abundance of FEAR and a lack of FREEDOM.

Yes, it is true that anyone impacted by this system typically ‘only’ suffers from a subset of the issues I have outlined above. But the mere acknowledgment of this is sufficient grounds for concern on how the system impacts people like me. So the next logical question that comes up is: If things are so bad, how come there are still so many people willing to live under these circumstances?

In the next post, we will look into what it is that keeps people like us in the US.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 2: The Broken and Discriminatory Legal Immigration System

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, I wrote about how the general population is typically unaware of the true nature and scale of the immigration issues – especially when it relates to legal, employment-based immigration in the US. Let me elaborate on what that entails.

There are approximately a million people like myself – Indian citizens who have lived in the US legally for up to or more than a decade on a temporary work visa. For us, the phrase ‘the immigration system is broken in the USA’ primarily means that, under the current immigration system, we will not get our permanent residency for the next decade or two (or three or four or fifteeneven though we have already been approved for it. This has been an issue for more than a decade and is unique to people of Indian origin (and to an extent the Chinese). It stems from an arbitrary cap on the number of Green Cards that can be issued to citizens of any single country each year regardless of when those people had their applications approved.

Since the foreign workforce in the US has a large presence of people from India (and China), this has essentially come to mean that people from India like myself have to wait for decades to see a green card (even though we were approved for it several years ago), while people from almost every other country obtain theirs in a year or less. So, while it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a person based on his/her nationality during hiring, the immigration system requires a discrimination against the same person based on his/her nationality – when issuing employment-based green cards.

So, what exactly does it mean to live in the USA while being on a perpetual wait for permanent residency? Is there even a legal way to live and work here while we wait for our green cards? Turns out, the same system that caused this issue, ironically, also provides what on the surface appears to be ‘a solution’.

Since almost all of us get approved for our green card while on temporary work visas, the immigration system simply allows us to keep renewing our ‘temporary’ visas indefinitely until we actually get our green cards! For those of you who were not aware of these details previously, I promise you I am NOT making this up. As much as this may all sound fantastic and ridiculous, this is actually how about a million Indian citizens live and work in the US currently – by extending their ‘temporary’ visas indefinitely! And for those of us who have been living like this for years, it has long ceased to be a matter of absurdity. On the contrary, we have all mostly just accepted this as a basic fact of everyday life. But yes, the system does appear to provide a pathway for people like me to stay here and work legally while we go through our decades long wait for our green cards. In fact, for the last 3-4 years, there has even been a provision for the spouses of those approved for a green card to be able to work. So what’s all the fuss about you ask?

This is the point where I emphasize that the true nature and scale of the problem is only known to the people who are directly impacted by it.

Over the years, the impacts from this system of legal immigration – where people from one or two countries are discriminated against for green cards – have manifested in ways that go well beyond just the allotment of green cards. An entire ecosystem of different players with different incentives has mushroomed from this flawed and discriminatory system. It has impacted the way companies do business, why people from specific countries are hired, the legal status of children, workplace harassment, career stagnation, forced deportation, family separation, among many others.

In the next post, I will highlight (some of) the problems faced by people (like myself) who are stuck in a decades long green card backlog.

Moving from the USA to Canada – Part 1: Acknowledging an Existential Crisis

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

The decision was made on a cold and windy December day in 2017 – between Christmas and New Year – in Garden City, a small town in rural southwest Kansas. Devanshi and I had been married for a little over 2 years and she had just started working in Garden City, while I lived about 9-10 hours away. By December of 2017, we had truly come to terms with what our future held in store for us if we decided to stay in the United States of America. To say that it didn’t look good would be an understatement, yes; but that would simply confine it to an issue of scale while completely ignoring the nature of the problem.

Over the previous several months, we had walked through all the different ways we could make our lives in the USA while trying to incorporate the not so infrequent constraints (or threats thereof) being imposed on our immigration status by the US Government. We had explored every strand of possibility branching out of these paths and tried to come up with a way to make it work in America for both of us. And at the end of each and every path and possibility that we explored, one thing became abundantly clear: our future lay outside of the United States. 

I am writing this series of posts for three reasons: One, to document the reasons behind a very significant decision in our lives lest I forget; two, to articulate what thousands of families in the US have been going through for several years, and; three, to provide some much needed reality check for those who wish to come here to the US to start a new life so they can make an informed decision.

It all starts with the acknowledgment that the general population are mostly unaware (either by choice or circumstance) of what living in this country (USA) entails for people like me. By ‘general population’, I am including everyone – from Americans to immigrants from India as well as other countries. It also (and especially) includes those from India who are looking to come here to study or work.

When you hear the phrase that the “immigration system in America is broken”, you have to understand that it means different things to different people. Unless it is someone who is directly impacted by the immigration system, its understanding is almost always limited to the rhetorical talking points that are repeated ad infinitum in the media. For conservatives who want more control on the flow of people across the border, it means the lack of laws and infrastructure to prevent that. For liberals, the administration is just not doing enough to help refugees from all over the world or is just making it too hard for new immigrants to enter the country. In many instances, American workers (of all skills and knowledge) have their own cases to make about their journeys trying to find employment. Notwithstanding that, American employers always seem to seek more foreign workers citing the low unemployment rate. The Agricultural industry wants its own share of foreign workers since, apparently, very few Americans actually sign up to be farmers. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg.

But what about the perspective of people who are directly impacted by the ‘broken immigration system’ – you know, the actual immigrants? We only ever hear about the ‘plight of immigrants in the USA’ through the eyes of someone who has no skin in the game (a.k.a the mainstream media). When we do not hear directly from the people who are impacted, our understanding of any situation is always limited to the rhetorical talking points that cater to a specific narrative. Which is why, when it comes to legal, employment-based immigration, very few people are aware of the facts and/or truth.

I say this because I was, in hindsight, one of the naive, uninformed students who traveled to the US full of optimism to do their Masters in 2009. I graduated, found a job, started working and was leading a good lifestyle. I even met and married my wife along the way. Everything was seemingly going to plan. After all, there were hundreds of thousands of people just like me in the US who were all seemingly doing just fine, and more were coming every year. Eventually, though, I got sucked into a state of immigration limbo where the lines between risk and reality began to get increasingly blurred – leading us on the path of an existential crisis. It was then that we began to ask tough questions to ourselves and found that there were even tougher answers awaiting us.

In the next post, I will elaborate on the specifics of what the ‘broken immigration system’ means in terms of legal, employment-based immigration in the USA.