Working hard to fulfill one’s aspirations is my definition of the American Dream. I pursued this by studying hard in college as a computer science major and eventually I was hired as a software engineer at a global technology company. The business invested heavily in me through training and mentorship; it does whatever it can do to retain talent. and I understand why. The worker shortage in my industry is crushing. Many companies in the tech industry offer thousands of dollars for employee referrals, and one job posting can take months to fill.
But all this makes my immigration situation especially frustrating. I’m a documented Dreamer, the child of immigrant parents who moved to the United States on long-term work visas. Roughly 250,000 of us have grown up legally in this country. But at 21, we “age out” of our legal status. We have no way to stay here permanently. Some of us can find short-term fixes, like the three-year work extension I received as an international STEM graduate. When that ends, though, we are forced to self-deport.
My dad and I are among a large population of foreign-born STEM workers who are vital industry assets, but are harmed by outdated immigration policies. The systemic shortcomings also reduce America’s competitive advantage. That’s why I’m hopeful to see some efforts to modernize immigration policy.
Recently, the White House announced several initiatives that would allow more international STEM graduates like me, along with other high-skilled immigrants, to temporarily fill job openings at American companies. and in February, the House of Representatives passed the America Competes Act, which would allow many more international STEM PhDs to apply for permanent residency. But none of this amounts to truly meaningful immigration reform. We also need Congress to permanently end “aging-out” by passing America’s Children Act, which would protect individuals, like myself, who were raised and educated in the United States with a documented status, from self-deportation.
I was 6 years old when I moved here from India. My father had accepted an IT consulting job in Massachusetts, and my mother and I came here as dependents on his H-1B visa from him. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, my dad’s company halted all green card applications. We were forced to self-deport to the United Kingdom, but then my dad’s company transferred him back to the United States a year and a half later.
In 2017, I have finally applied for permanent residence. We’ve been waiting ever since. That’s because there’s an annual cap on the number of green cards allocated to each country; people from highly populated countries like India face wait times of up to 150 years. I’d been in this line, but I was kicked out of it when I turned 21. I have a maximum of three years left on my F1 international student visa (I’m currently on Optical Practical Training). But after that, my life in the US will expire.
It’s an outcome that benefits not one. When the time comes, my company will lose an employee in whom they’ve invested time, training and money. Then they’ll sink more time and money into recruiting and training my replacement. STEM industry leaders who can’t find qualified American workers regularly turn to international talent, only to lose them due to senseless immigration policies.
The cost to our economy is huge, but the personal toll on families is devastating. I still live with my parents and sister, who was born here and is a citizen. We’re a family that genuinely enjoys spending time together. We watched Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry together. We all wore pajamas, drank tea and enjoyed a lively discussion about the royal family. When I self-deport, I’ll lose these precious moments. I’ll have to start my life over, alone in India, a country I barely remember. Or, perhaps, I’ll move to Canada, which has a much friendlier immigration policy. I’d prefer to stay here; this is my home. Unfortunately, at this time, there’s nothing I can do to fix my situation.
It’s imperative to remind the government that America is losing precious talent because of nonsensical immigration policies. Keep this nation competitive and keep families like mine together. Let us stay.
Vrinda Punj is a software developer and member of ImproveThe Dream. She lives in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts.