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Caught in the visa maze

Visa restrictions are a hindrance for a large number of spouses coming on H1 visa to the United States, reports Shalini Kathuria Narang.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 16:59 IST

When I moved to the Bay area in 1995 after marriage on an H4 visa, many not-so-pleasant surprises unfolded gradually. To start with, my visa status prevented me from taking up employment.

Going to school was economically unviable due to the astronomical fee charges of premier universities especially for the non-residents and Bay Area's high cost of living. The American dream seemed farcical and far-fetched.

Back home in Delhi, my life as a reporter for a premier daily was busy and intellectually challenging to say the least. Forced domesticity was not my vision of America. Since the software boom had just started, many spouses like me felt trapped in the circumstances.

Trained doctors, architects, engineers and teachers suddenly found themselves entrapped in the dependant visa maze. The wait for the ubiquitous green card could be months long or years, depending on circumstances.

Thankfully, my personal travails ended when I walked into the nearby library. The books kept me engaged for long hours and luckily I got my work permit in a couple of months.

I am sure for many others, the challenges of cultural assimilation in a new country coupled with emotional and financial dependence on a new person (in case of hastily arranged marriages) continue.

Visa restrictions are a major hindrance towards an economically emancipated existence for a large number of spouses of engineers coming on H1 visa to the US.

Disagreements between spouses are a natural by product of any difficult situation, and especially in case of new alliances, the challenges are multifold with familial and cultural expectations not synchronising.

While many couples grow and mature from challenging times and finally find common goals, love and mutual respect, there are many others who are emotionally and mentally drained in such and similar situations.

A horrendous consequence in some cases is domestic violence. As staggering statistics reveal, this scourge is not restricted to any community, economic or educational class or a lack there of, but encompasses people of all colors, creeds, cultures and communities.

In recognition of the problem in the south Asian community and to provide support and service to victims of domestic violence, Maitri - a non-profit was incepted in the Bay Area in 1991.

On Sunday, November 19, the organisation conducted a fundraiser at the Spangenberg Theatre in Palo Alto. The programme attended by over 900 people commenced with a clarion call for action in recognition of the problem in the supposedly ideal South Asian Diaspora and need for financial support for the organization.

The staggering statistics of around 1,650 calls a year on its hotline, translating to around five calls a day were definitely eye opening.

The request for call for action by the organisation's volunteers was followed by the presentation of Sammy - a play on Mahatma Gandhi's personal and political journey.

Elaborating about the significance of the play on the life and times of Gandhiji with Maitri's mission, Sonya Pelia, the President of the organization said, "We have an ongoing relationship with Lilette Dubey - the play director.

The showcase of a premier theatre production was decided as means to bring in the needed funds for the organisation.

On the artistic level, Gandhiji's message of non-violence is closely aligned with Maitri's work of help and support to the victims of violence." The organisation collected around $100,000 in gross profit.

The money would be used for Maitri to continue its hotline, expand the intake of the interim home for the victims, outreach to underserved areas and to the victims in India who have been abandoned there by spouses in the US.

Ironically, in the first act of the play, Gandhiji is shown getting physical with Kasturba when she resists toeing his line. In my humble opinion, a lesson that even the greatest amongst us are not bereft of personality failures.

Overall, the production was not only the showcase of the power of non-violence but also about the growth of an individual from mundane to magnificence.