By Olivia Carville and Shelly Banjo
At the end of February, Natasha Bhat learned that her stepfather had died suddenly. Bhat, 35, recently recalled how she grabbed a backpack and pushed her 4-year-old U.S.-born son to San Francisco airport to take a midnight flight to India, his homeland. origin. She didn’t expect to get stuck indefinitely.
Bhat works in a technology company in Silicon Valley on an H-1B visa and his documents had to be renewed. So she threw them in the bag, knowing that she would have to do the chore before returning to the United States in a few weeks. But she said her appointment in mid-March to the U.S. consulate in Calcutta had been canceled when it closed due to concerns about Covid-19. His return to the country was further delayed when President Donald Trump signed a decree last week prohibiting many people with multiple types of visas, including H-1Bs, from entering the country until 2021.
Trump’s executive order is the latest step in his multi-year tightening of U.S. immigration policy. The president argued that since taking office, visa programs have enabled employers to reduce the wages of native-born workers, despite objections from companies who say they need highly skilled workers to fill crucial jobs. The latest restrictions, said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis, “are using the pandemic as an excuse to achieve the anti-immigration goals the administration has wanted for years.”
Holders of H-1B, about three-quarters of whom work in the tech industry, have been feeling a sense of unease creeping since Trump took office. Yet thousands of them continued to go back and forth between the United States and their country of origin, for weddings or funerals – or for work assignments or to obtain mundane documents. (Some visas require people to leave the country briefly after approval to have their passports stamped.) Many of those who left the United States this spring, like Bhat, found the world because they knew it had changed at the time. mid-trip.
Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan research group, says that about 3.75,000 temporary visa holders and green card applicants will now be barred from entering the United States until the year. next. A significant number of them are now stranded in India, which has long been closely linked to Silicon Valley. The tech industry has always opposed immigration restrictions from the administration, and Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Twitter Inc. immediately condemned the latest decree, as well as business groups representing hundreds of ” other technology companies.
Indian tech companies have also urged the administration to reconsider its latest decision. A large commercial group in the country called it “ill-advised and harmful to the American economy”. Some Indian IT companies are considering alternatives to placing people on site with American customers, such as creating clusters of workers in countries like Mexico or Canada.
The objections have not spared people like Bhat and her husband, who have worked in Silicon Valley for the past nine years, she as the manager of a software company and he as an engineer in a bank. Her husband returned to the United States in early March to work and has spent the last four months in confinement alone. Bhat now works overnight to support his clients based in the United States and tries to convince their Adhrit son to eat Indian food like chapati for breakfast because of his complaints that he misses his breakfast. California standard toast with avocado.
The prospect of a wave of people stranded abroad began to worry Siskind several weeks ago when he first heard of the planned order. On Twitter, he warned workers on non-immigrant visas not to leave the United States. He urged foreigners to return as soon as possible.
After the order went into effect, Siskind set up an online form for people to share their stories and asked their social media followers to fill it out. In 24 hours, he received over 500 responses. There was the scientist who was looking for coronavirus test products who flew to India to marry, the Atlanta-based computer consultant who could miss the birth of her child, the 2-year-old girl who was born in the United States. United and who developed a severe allergy skin reaction to mosquito bites in India, the employee of Intel Corp. who now runs critical projects from afar.
Siskind responded to calls from husbands separated from wives, parents of children. People told him they were afraid of following mortgage payments on homes, car loans and jobs. Some had children born in the United States who are American citizens enrolled in American schools. Many have valid visas and have assumed that all they need to return to the country is a routine passport stamp.
Narendra Singh, an India-born software architect who has lived in Dallas for nine years, brought his family back to Kolkata, India, in February. Their return was delayed when the consulates closed and they were advised to wait for the worst of the pandemic. Now Singh works remotely. His wife, a software engineer, lost his job in April. Their daughter, an American citizen, was scheduled to start preschool in the fall, but they prepared her for the possibility that this would not happen. Singh, 36, said he knew there was always a chance that his visa wouldn’t be extended, but assumed he was safe until his current visa expired in 2022. ” We accepted skilled jobs, we followed the rules, we got the visas, “he said.” I just feel betrayed. ”
Mili Widhani Khatter, 39, who has lived in the United States with her husband and two children born in the United States for 12 years, flew to Delhi, India, without her family to say goodbye to her dying mother . She has not seen her children for nearly four months and said that her 2-year-old son had forgotten how to say “mom” since they were separated. “This is the worst punishment you can inflict on a mom,” said Khatter. “It’s not human.”
Now families are worried about what another six months of uncertainty will do to their children and the future they thought they would chart. “I have a valid visa. I have lived in the bay area for eight years. I have a life there and a house there, and my husband is there, ”said Bhat. “Will I ever be able to go back?”
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