Plight of Desi H1Bs – Beyond Tragedy

Many Americans (including us) on occasion get angry over the issue of H1B work visas at a time when unemployment in the U.S. is rising (11% in California now) and approaching 10% in other states.

But what seems like an abstract problem at a distance becomes a disturbing tragedy at close quarters.

Sad Story
We just returned from a visit to a desi grocery store.

As we were making small talk at the Indian grocery store with a desi stranger, we heard a sorry tale. The desi person’s spouse is an SAP consultant on H1B visa with the green card processing in the final stages.

Then disaster struck six months back. Our desi’s spouse was laid off and has been on the bench since.

Being on the bench usually means no salary until the consultant finds a new project.

But finding a new SAP project is easier said than done in the current economic climate. Despite sending over 100 resumes, our desi’s spouse has been unable to find a new project.

End result – Grim financial scenario on the home front.

Bad to Worse
Now add another disturbing element to the no-salary-for-six-months-situation – the desi and spouse are in the final stages of Green Card processing.

A bad situation now becomes terrible.

With the green card processing in the final stages, the desi and SAPouse are scared witless of being labeled illegal and thrown out of the country.

Horror Tale
Now comes the real horror of the story.

The desi we encountered at the Indian grocery store told us that to avoid falling into the illegal status trap and losing the right to stay in the U.S., the family is paying $1,775.00 tax monthly on a non-existent salary of $5,775.00.

This payment of $1,775.00 tax every month is being done to maintain the fiction of employment and avoid immigration hassles. The U.S. immigration authority has become very stringent lately and demands all kinds of documentation including tax filings, client lists et al.

Apparently, the desi’s spouse is also paying the tax for the employer’s non-existent income (Indian contractor employers for whom many of the desi SAP consultants work typically retain 15% to 20% of the income of their employees/consultants).

Having run out of options, the desi and spouse are now getting money from India to keep their family in the U.S. going.

How long can they afford to keep the employment farce going and paying tax on a non-existent salary? We didn’t have the heart to ask this troubling question.

While many H1Bs have indeed returned to India, many are unable to do so for various reasons (children’s education and lack of jobs in India too were cited as reasons by the desi we encountered at the store).

It seems many H1B desis laid off from their jobs and unable to get back to India have now taken up low-paying jobs at gas stations, auto garages et al and praying desperately that things will somehow get better (no, we don’t think the U.S. economy will get better anytime soon).

For those desis unable to return to India for whatever reason, the American Dream has now turned into an American Nightmare.

7 Responses to "Plight of Desi H1Bs – Beyond Tragedy"

  1. joeantony   May 27, 2009 at 12:55 am

    This is stupidity to the core… many desis ‘think’ that living in america is equal to living the heaven…
    atleast they like to pose as if, to their relatives back here in India.. so coming back out of desperation would first hurt their ego, because these local relatives will have a chuckle at them when they are back here and searching jobs, settling down. So they build up reasons for staying back.. like GC or some 401k, children, education some bullshit…

    I am reminded of a tamil proverb (maadu meychaalum parathesam poithaan) that says ‘Even if I got to look after cattle I will do it only in abroad’… Responds:

    Reminds us of the Sikh kids’ response when asked what they’d like be when they grow up: NRI.

  2. What_if   May 27, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Enterprising persons take certain decisions, based on the goals they have set for themselves and know how their life should go on. The desi, whom you met at the grocery store, may be one such person. Having left the Indian shores for good and coming close to obtaining a Green Card, who would want to return ? So he must have opted to pay tax and remain there – to achieve his goal. Even if the taxes are to be paid for a year, how much will it cost? About Ten Lakh Indian Rupees, it should be worth the investment, considering the life long prospects in USA (at gas stations, auto garages et al ?)
    Are the H1B Visas issued equal to 11% of employed guys in California plus 10% in other states to replace all of them? Then your and other Americans anger is well justified, else,
    It is like blaming that one spoon of Ghee (out of many) – for the Burning Fire in the Homam / Havan, where the boundary of bricks around the Homa Gundam is the whole System, the Holy priests sitting around and performing the Havan are the Greedy Corporates and all those burning wood inside are the other related myriad of reasons – including the Credit Card, lavish lifestyle etc. which constitute the Havan – and NOT that one spoon of Ghee poured, it has just added some fuel to the Fire. I wonder why you don’t see it this way. Responds:

    For those who came recently (i.e. in the last five years), the going is bound to be tough.

  3. Aswin_Kini   May 27, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Very bad to hear that! I hope better sense prevails in the future. Hope those desis find a way out of their mess.
    Let this be a lesson to all Indians who wanna settle abroad without thinking about the repercussions,”The Grass ain’t always gonna be greener on the other side”.

  4. Ænima   May 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    SAPouse (tee hee).. i see some sarcasm behind the feigned sadness. I can’t imagine you (proven shock-blog-jock) feeling sorry for someone hanging on to GC hopes so desperately, while there are better options in India.

    I thought benching without salary was illegal.. paying tax on a non-existent salary also is illegal.. the employers are probably pocketing some money out of the “taxes”..

    [Deleted] Responds:

    1. You write: I thought benching without salary was illegal.. paying tax on a non-existent salary also is illegal..

    Our understanding is that these kinds of unsavory practices are par for the course with Indian contractors/employers.

    Never underestimate the greed and unethical behavior of a desi employer.

    2. You write: i see some sarcasm behind the feigned sadness

    We feel their pain.

  5. Malika S   May 28, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    No matter what the economy is like, India is still a backward corrupt country which many Indians are unhappy with.

    So you try to go abroad and once they are here, they don’t want to turn back. If you go to us embassies in India you can see majority of south Indians like Tamil, kerela, andra and so on standing in line in hope that U.S. can make their future once they get the visa.

    On CNN, lou dobbs show, some Malayale family who were at the point of being deported were asked, what will it feel like if you are permitted to live here in U.S. and the family’s response was that they would kiss this land and so on. Whereas the kids were luke we want to grow up to be an American. No matter what the response was, they still got deported.

  6. raakhi   May 28, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    i wouldn’t compromise my respect & dignity to seek shelter somewhere. We can always build an america at home, thats what makes the life more interesting.

    If the system allows immigration, its a different story. To me GC can be a suppliment to my career plan, but can never be my destiny.

    Real guy can excel anywhere.

    But looking at the developments at India, I think soon these kind of cases will change.

  7. e3visa   June 7, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    The sad thing is for the most part only immigrants who have to endure the US Immigration system can really understand this plight. I hope that at the end of this that family comes out stronger and their future generations are able to change the US Immigration system from within.
    CJ Responds:

    You write: I hope that at the end of this that family comes out stronger

    Who knows what the morrow will bring.

    Their son, who has been accepted at a prestigious university, might fall in love with a black girl. Given the distaste desis demonstrate for blacks, the grief-stricken parents will then regret not returning to India when they had the chance. Such is life.

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