The DNA Sequence of a Legal Immigrant in USA – My Perspective
U.S.A: Thisabove structuremight look like a DNA strandor a chemical formula however it is the immigration path I had to take to become a legal
U.S.A: This above structure might look like a DNA strand or a chemical formula however it is the immigration path I had to take to become a legal immigrant or permanent resident in USA. My analogy of comparing DNA sequence to my legal immigration path is to show the length and complexity of the immigration process. To become a legal immigrant it takes a special kind of “Immigrant DNA”. In my opinion, this DNA is the not the kind you are born with but the one you attain with patience and perseverance as you pursue your Career path and Immigration path in US. The codes in the sequence above are not the real genome codes but the various stages involved in my transition from being an international student to becoming a Green Card holder. If you pay a little close attention you will see the details of the Immigration Forms, Visas, Documents and Degrees in my journey. It all started with an admission to graduate school but eventually lead to my becoming an immigrant. The journey took 12 years. Each of the steps in the structure above involved a lot of paperwork and documentation. This article tells my journey; others have their own complex stories with respect to their immigration processes.
My journey started with Form I20. The I20 is a document which international students receive when admitted to a Graduate School as proof of admission. I received my I20 from University of Dayton to pursue a Masters in Computer Science. With an I20, Undergraduate Degree Certificate, Test Scores of TOEFL and GRE, and a visit to US Consulate in India for the Visa Interview got myself an approved F1 visa. Back in the day, the appointment process for the Visa Interview was an interesting experience because it was on first come first serve basis. This means standing in the queue and waiting as if it is Black Friday shopping day tomorrow. Students would lineup as early as midnight for a morning appointment to assure themselves an appointment. These times were tough and testing times for many students. At this crucial juncture which will make or break your career, attaining an F1 visa will get you all set for Graduate School, otherwise you have to review other options which might be minimal for those students who wants to pursue higher education in USA. Attaining the F1 visa was a second step and a great accomplishment for me as well as for many other students who were planning to pursue higher education and career abroad. Now the prepping for the schooling in USA is yet another interesting experience as the whole community in your hometown and neighborhood prepares you for this with unsolicited advice. You get so much feedback that you will be overwhelmed. For me the Indian Association and the International Advisor at the University were like angels because they made it very easy for me to settle down as a new student by helping and guiding me from the time of my arrival in US. The next best thing is Student Orientation which definitely brings a new set of friends and fun times as you interact with others in the same situation as you. The University of Dayton for us was truly a homecoming and life at UD was almost an unforgettable experience.
Once you settle down at University, you try to balance your school work, home work, and the work at home. Your first on-campus job and the first pay check will bring a lot of happiness. In my case, I sent my first pay check of $24.90 to my mom as a thank you gesture to say that “Mom, I owe you for my accomplishments in life.” Being away from home, life in USA teaches you to be independent unlike in India where you depend on your family and parents for everything, including money. The first holiday break of the semester made me feel very lonely because school was almost deserted as everyone was gone for the holidays. This is when you miss your family the most. For me the first holidays had set a reminder for every other year to plan in advance to do something so that I would not feel lonely as I had the very first time. This one year, a professor and his family were kind enough to invite me and some other friends to their home for lunch and served some homemade Indian food which we missed very much. I still truly appreciate their generosity. As the years passed, I was invited by my professor and mentor to join them to celebrate the holidays with their family. Few other times, a friend of mine and his family were kind enough to invite me for Thanksgivings and Christmas breaks to visit them in St. Louis which was almost like spending time with family.
After a semester or two if you keep up your grades, some form of financial assistance will come along; it is usually a Teaching Assistantship or Graduate Assistantship that will provide a way to pay for tuition and/or expenses in some cases. This will obviously let you loosen up little bit and get you to start exploring the surroundings. As a first step, most students search for a used car and then simultaneously they get ready to clear the driver’s license exam. Each and every experience is new whether it is getting your driver’s license or your first speeding ticket. For me, road trips with friends were good times and this was an attempt in trying to replace your old friendships with new ones. Balancing coursework and fun was important and I felt as if weekdays would get the best of you if you were attentive to your work and the weekends were party times with your friends. You know they say nothing lasts forever and it is true because time for graduation and job search will come in no time and you need to get ready to start a real job and get some American work experience. While pursuing the degree, you can still work for an outside company using authorization called CPT (Circular Practical Training) whereas after graduation or completion of course work you need to apply for work authorization called OPT (Optional Practical Training). OPT is a work permit for one year using which you can get some practical experience. While on OPT, if a willing employer likes you the company could sponsor your employment visa called H1B visa. Many Doctors, Engineers, IT Professionals in US have taken this route to become part of the working sector to lead an American way of life and achieve the American dream. All H1b holders pay good chunks of taxes and contribute to the local economy in the places they live in.
In the past three decades many Indians have moved to Unites States. Currently, 1.25% of the US population is Indian Americans [Source: Wikipedia] and Indians are the third largest Asian group in the Asian American immigrant community in US. I can proudly say that I am part of this group which is the new generation of immigrants. Most international students and workers use H1B which is a temporary non-immigrant work visa with a duration of three years which could be renewed few times. However, with every renewal you need a new visa stamped in your home country that provides you travelling rights in and out of the country. Since H1B visa is a temporary visa and only allows you to stay on this visa for a maximum of six years, in most cases it is recommended that if you have decided to live in USA going further, you might as well start the process of getting your green card which is usually initiated by your employer. There is always a long wait for green card/permanent residency, and in most cases the sooner you apply the better it is for you. In my case, it took six plus years to get a green card after initiating the process. In some cases, many years after you applied for a green card you could get a pre-greencard work permit called Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that would allow you to work indefinitely for any employer. However, it is safe to get your greencard since EAD has an expiry date of two years and needs to be renewed multiple times as in my case. While this is all going on, my Indian Passport was up for renewal. Most importantly, renewing your passport tops all the priorities. With an expired passport travelling to India or your home country is not an option in case you are planning to visit family for holidays or any family emergencies. Students from many countries including India have migrated to US over the years. There is a lot of brain drain that has happened to the US and this gives US a great advantage in research and innovation. Data shows that 29.3% of Ph.D.s in US graduate schools are international students (Non-U.S. citizen) [Source:nsf.gov]. While education and employment based immigrations are only few categories of legal immigration I have discussed, there are many categories of immigration. In each era, whether it is the present time or the past times during the 17th or 18th centuries, America has always welcomed immigrants who in turn have played a key role in building this country and made this country the greatest nation in the world. Victories in World War II should be genuinely credited to the rise of the American worker and the Industrial Revolution along with Innovation. I think immigrants of the past have played key roles in US victories in the World Wars. The first immigrants came through the sea route on ships and reached US through Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty was the first thing they saw when they reached US. The Statue of Liberty was standing there as a beacon of hope, a symbol of Liberty, of Friendship and American Exceptionalism and gave hopes of a better life for immigrant families.
My Immigrant DNA Sequence analogy was to explain my detailed path to becoming an immigrant of United States. Similarly, America as a nation has an evolved DNA that is a collection of so many individual DNA sequences of many people from so many different walks of life. America has evolved over time and became a melting pot and became only stronger and more resilient. The social fabric of the US makes America stronger only because of the collective strength of its unity that comes from its diversity: The diversity of religion, of race and ethnicity, and of people from everywhere who came here seeking a better life for themselves and their families. These differences work as strength, and provide an advantage in making America stronger and greater. Each new generation of Americans has provided America the resolve to get ahead of the tide. As an outsider who joined this country, I see a lot of great things about America: The American Work Ethic, Innovation, Technological Advancement, Research and Development, Democracy, Liberty, Human Rights and Equality are some of the qualities that makes this country truly the best in the world. The harmony of the U.S. social and economic fabric when disturbed by divisive politics weakens the bond that gives the country strength. The bond that gives the strength to this ever-evolving American DNA that keeps America great is its diversity and inclusiveness. They are the individual strands of the country’s own DNA that come together to give the strength which individually would be weak. One of these strands of the American DNA is its Immigrant DNA which I am proudly a part of. As I said earlier, you are not born with the Immigrant DNA, you acquire it while making a career or name for yourself in USA. Looking into history it only shows that the Immigrant DNA has always been a part of the American DNA and always will be. The path might be a long process but it is worth it!!!
By Avinash Puli, M.S., MBA