LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Rishi Misra, 38, immigrated as a college student to the United States at 18 years old, benefiting from the educational and job opportunities that this country has to offer. While India’s healthcare and technology industries have come a long way, especially in Bangalore, Misra believes that he wouldn’t have been able to pursue his career to its full potential had he stayed in his home country. At the same time, his journey from student to H1-B work visa to permanent residency ended up being a 20-year ordeal that gave Misra a lot of experience with the trials and tribulations of employment and family-based immigration. The merits of both are currently under debate in the federal government as the Trump administration cracks down on immigration. Misra spoke to the Alhambra Source from the Bay Area about what Americans should know and consider about both types of immigration, and why the term “chain migration” is misleading.
A 20-year-long journey to permanent residency
My journey to the United States started in 1997 and I came here as an undergrad. I studied physics as an undergrad major, and then went on to study biomedical engineering as a second undergraduate major and did my MBA. I graduated in 2003 after finishing all those three degrees and joined a large corporate management consulting firm, where I worked for five years. Now, I started the [green card] process with them in 2006. Their immigration law firm, I think, sort of through a combination of factors, they handled my case very questionably, kind of misled me to thinking that what was going on was normal. They got audited by the U.S. Department of Labor, which essentially held me up in getting a number in line [for a green card] with that company all the way till 2008. By the time the recession hit, I basically didn’t have a number in line. In fact, a number in line wouldn’t have come with that company, unless I had stuck around for another 2-3 years.
So after that false start, what I thought was a misleading start, I restarted the process from scratch in 2010 with a start-up. And the start-up used a smaller boutique immigration law firm that managed to get me a number in line just in eight months. By the time I got that number in line though, it was kind of late, because the line for Indian-born people was not moving. In fact, it was dysfunctional. I started plotting it out to illustrate to people how dysfunctional it was. One month it would tell me that I had two months left. Next month it would tell me I had six years left. It would fluctuate at that magnitude on pretty much a month to month basis. So I waited in that line — and there are constraints to waiting in line. You can’t change employers easily. There are certain types of promotions that you cannot accept easily. And then of course should anything happen to your job while you’re on an H1-B visa, you’re pretty much forced into self-deportation, so it’s kind of an uncertain lifestyle to be living, because of what the H1-B regulations are.
And then of course because you’re born in India, you have to spend more time waiting than any other country at this point. China, of course, is second-longest right now, so the Chinese-born people have to wait very long as well, but Indians have to in the current system wait the longest. So I waited in that line for about five years, and after getting frustrated with its lack of progress, I decided to apply for the EB-1 visa, which is basically the alien of extraordinary ability green card. Much more merit-based, even though the criteria are a whole lot harder than having a Master’s degree. I applied for it in 2016 and I got it and as soon as I got approved, I had my green card six months later. So between the time I first moved to the United States, and the time I actually got my green card, it was 19 years and a couple months.
The toll that immigration has on family
One of the things that many immigrants have gone through – particularly Indians and Chinese will relate to that – is you end up spending a lot of time away from their families in this process. And we’re not talking extended family, we’re talking parents, we’re talking siblings. And of the things that I’m looking forward to when I become a citizen in 2021, after getting a green card, you basically have to wait for five years to become a citizen. With citizenship, I get the ability to bring my parents over — perhaps not necessarily on a long-term stay basis — they can actually come here and stay for extended periods. But from what I understand, the framework that Trump and some of the Republicans have pushed forward, they want to yank that rug away from under legal immigrants, that spent all that time becoming citizens.
I should mention that the wait is not as long for any other country as India or China. If I was born in Pakistan, I would’ve been a green card holder in 2011 and a citizen by 2016. In fact, I might have been a green card holder and citizen even before that. If I was born in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, and I mention these countries, because they’re sort of similar in skin tone, and I know that could allow someone who’s not necessarily acquainted to that part of the world to say, “Hey you know these people aren’t that much different, but we’re treating them very, very differently because of how populated each country is.” And so the impact here adversely falls on Indian and Chinese people because of how the system works. And I think they yank the rug particularly on parents.
Bringing siblings to the United States versus parents
To me, having my sibling here, my brother, if he ever decided to move, you know, it would be great, but I would expect him to do it on his own merit, particularly after I’ve gone through the system and managed to get through on my own merit. So that to me is not a big deal, because they want to take away the siblings of U.S. citizens categories as well. But the parents of U.S. citizens category, that to me, is just cutting too deep, particularly as there’s all these other categories that they’re already getting rid of. I’m fine with getting rid of the diversity lottery visa. In fact, I think they should replace the 50,000 diversity lottery green cards with 10,000 green cards meant for immigrant entrepreneurs that found successful companies on U.S. soil. That would be good for the U.S. economy, that would be good for entrepreneurship and innovation, and it’s long overdue, that our system actually offers a pathway for immigrant entrepreneurs, cause it currently doesn’t, it just makes it very difficult for them.
This is what I don’t like: [U.S.] Senator Tom Cotton has classified parents as extended family. Now I don’t know what kind of family he comes from, but I’m sure most Americans treat their family as immediate family and not extended family. Right? So for him to have that double standard if indeed he considers his parents immediate family and to treat immigrant parents as extended family is hypocritical. So that’s sort of my big concern now, after I had a particularly turbulent path through the system to finally become a permanent resident. This Republican effort, President Trump effort, to try and yank the rug for people who have earned their citizenship, in a very a long and hard way, it’s cruel really. I think cruelty is the only word for that.
The reality of seeing one’s parents as an immigrant to the United States
Well, the good thing is while you’re going through the process, because I followed the law every step of the way, I was able to see them once a year in many years, except when I had to restart the process from scratch in 2010. I actually did not see them, because it was very hard for me to leave the country at that point, so in 2009 and 2010, I almost didn’t see them for two years. That was very difficult. Otherwise, I managed to see them once a year. But I think the thing to think about here is you know, parents of citizens should be allowed to come here for extended periods to help with grandkids, for example. And I think that denying them that is just unfair. Parents who spent an incredible amount of time away from their kids, while they become citizens, should be allowed to stay for an extended period, should they choose to do so. I think the worry is will they come over and be draining U.S. welfare? And I don’t think they would, because the current system as it stands today requires that you have to show that you have the funds to support other family members.
The term “chain migration”
Honestly, I’m a little confused by it. They talk about uncle, cousins, and all that stuff, and I’m like, “It takes a lot to complete each link in the chain.” So for example, I become a citizen in 2021, if I sponsor anyone — if I sponsor my brother in 2021, he would likely not get his citizenship until 25 years after that. By that time, he’ll possibly be over 60 years old, and he would have no desire to move anyway, and even if he did, I mean at that age for him to come over and bring his — I think he’d have the right to bring over his spouse and kids if he has any, and that’s it. That would be the end of the chain. And that end of the chain would happen 25 years from 2021, which would potentially be almost 50 years from the time I first arrived in this country. The link in these chains are so long, that they’re actually both longer than the lifespans of many people in the families of immigrants. So I think it’s a little bit of a myth.
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This interview has been edited and condensed.