The better and invisible half of Silicon Valley?

It’s not uncommon to hear business professionals say that their spouse was or is often a big part of the decision making process in closing a big deal, or even that without their spouse’s support they wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did.
In Silicon Valley this takes a whole different dimension. By it’s own entrepreneurial nature, SV is packed with creative, innovative people and thousands of engineers, designers and managers are attracted to this place as moths are attracted to light.
Yet, I wonder if SV would be what it is today if thousands of spouses were not willing to leave everything behind (career, family, friends) to join and support their loved ones.
Every year in October SV gets new blood. Companies bring brilliant people from all over the world to work for them on a Visa called H1-B. With many, if not most, of these brains come their families, who get a dependent visa called H-4. This H-4 visa does not allow the families to work. I have met quite a few of the spouses who decided to move with their H1-B spouse and they are consistently also brilliant minds in their own right. Dentists, medical doctors, lawyers, designers, software engineers, teachers, managers, scientists. Mostly women.
I often wonder what would these companies do if the spouses had said “No, I’m not willing to leave everything behind, you have to decline the job offer to work in the US” (and as most of you know, whatever the lady says goes, right? ;p)
The H1-B is a temporary non-immigrant visa, which means you can only stay here (the US) for a certain period of time. Usually it expires after 3 years and it can be renewed for another 3. After that workers need to go back home. So, worst-case scenario H-4s would be jobless for 6 years. 6 years without a job is a loooong time.
Sure there are all sorts of things you can do during this time to boost and use your skills. Study, volunteer, start or look after your family, travel, meet people, whatever. But not having a job can be quite baffling. Most people start a conversation by asking you what you do. They usually mean what’s your job or field of expertise. What is one to say when one doesn’t have a job, specially when it’s not by choice? I still struggle to answer that question and to be perfectly honest I don’t like being jobless, so I feel a bit angry when I have to answer that question. I really don’t know what to say, because I want to make it short, but I find that a short answer doesn’t usually do. So I have to explain that I am not allowed to work because my husband got this visa, and I got a dependent visa, bla bla bla. People seem confused with the “I’m not allowed to work” part and ask “why?” and then again I don’t know what to say, because I can’t give the answer I really want to give (I try not to be rude and show my frustration; not always successful though), so I explain that it’s because of the immigration laws. They look even more perplexed. I don’t think anyone even ever thought that someone could be forbidden to provide for themselves and their family. I didn’t know this existed until my husband told me he had a job offer and he told me the “but” part of it. I was dumbfounded! The first thing that came to my mind was “I’m not going”. I told him to go, but I would stay in Europe.
Life is filled with twists and turns and I ended up joining my husband when he moved to SV. I could see that this was a unique opportunity and that it meant the world to him. I studied translation, and I can work from anywhere. Yet, in his case, SV is the place to be. The big jobs and companies are here and therefore so must you if you want to do something significant if your degree and skills. My husband is really good at what he does and he loves it. He is hardworking, intelligent and he thrives in challenging projects. I had to back him up on this.
It has been difficult at times to adjust to the new life and it feels unfair that H-4s are not allowed to work, but I don’t regret my decision. I hope the immigration laws change someday and that in the future H1-B spouses can also contribute with their skills in the job market. We already do contribute for the success of the Valley, we just do it in a sort of invisible way – by supporting our spouse’s career and being there for them. The best way we, on H-4 visa, can do this is by being willing “to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us” (Joseph Campbell).

DHS proposes rule to allow certain H-4s to work

Here is something that, if it happens, will change a lot of people’s lives for the better: employment authorization to certain H-4 spouses.

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to extend the availability of employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B nonimmigrants. The extension would be limited to H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B nonimmigrants who are in the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment. This population will include those H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants if the H-1B nonimmigrants are either the beneficiaries of an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140) or who have been granted an extension of their authorized period of admission in the United States under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21), as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. This regulatory change would lessen any potential economic burden to the H-1B principal and H-4 dependent spouse during the transition from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident status, furthering the goals of attracting and retaining high-skilled foreign workers.” Taken from http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USCIS-2010-0017-0001

I still don’t understand why not allow everyone to be able to work, I can’t even imagine that it is legal to *forbid* someone from having an income and providing for themselves, but this would be better than the way it is now.

So I ask all of the H1Bs and H-4s out there, leave your comment and explain why you think this needs to change, and how H-4s would be an asset not a problem for the american companies and economy.

The time period to leave a comment is ending soon. Do it now, before you miss the change to make yourselves heard.

A big *thank you* to the DHS for allowing people to have a say in this!

Age range of people on H4 visa

I’m trying to understand the age range of H4s, please vote so we can get a clear idea of this.

“I’m sorry, I can’t accept your offer.”

Yet again I have had to refuse a translation/interpretation job (I translate from English to Portuguese) because of my Visa situation.

These companies are service providers and don’t sponsor work visas, so every time I get contacted to do a job that would not take a job from an american, I have to refuse. And this is why the H4 is ridiculous and annoying.

H4s are not allowed to work remotely, do internships or anything slightly similar to getting paid. We are allowed to do volunteer work with not for profit organizations only. We are simply not allowed to have income of our own. Why would anyone think of creating such a law is beyond me, but such a law exists in the US.

Immigration reform is needed urgently.

Immigration Reform

Not having a job (due to my Visa situation) leaves me with an awful lot of time on my hands. Fortunately I have found ways of staying busy. Actually, I have been so busy lately I haven’t had much time to think about this depressing and unfair H4 Visa. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been trying my best to change my situation.

In the past months I have encouraged other H4 spouses to write to their Representatives. I have both called and written to a few of the representatives in California asking them to help pass the Immigration Bill and helps us out of this H4 prison.

I have attended talks and conferences regarding immigration issues and reform. In one of these talks organised by the Bipartisan Policy Center I was even able to personally talk to former Secretaries Condoleezza Rice, Cisneros and Chertoff about the H4 Visa situation and how important it is for us that this Immigration Bill passes. Again, I urged them to help pass the Immigration Bill.

I have attended and volunteered at FWD.us events and became familiarised with other also urgent immigration issues that the Immigration Bill would solve if passed.

I can not predict how the Immigration debate will turn out and if the Bill will be passed or if, on the contrary, it will be ignored again, but I would like to think that everyone will help out by calling Representatives, signing petitions, using social media, whatever they can use to bring the immigration issue to the table. Let’s not just seat and wait for a miracle to happen. This is a great place to start: http://www.fwd.us/action

So, I’m curious, how many of you on H4 would like to be allowed to work?

2 years and counting

Yep, it’s been two years since we moved to Silicon Valley and still no sign of a Green Card or a sponsor for a working visa so I can get out of this ridiculous H4 situation.

During this period I have had the pleasure of meeting other women on the H4 visa. I have created a support group on Meetup and it has been amazing having these women to share my time and frustrations with (I’m sure my husband appreciates not having to hear me complain about it all the time :p). When you are in this situation (uprooted, alone, and with nothing to do all day) it counts even more to have someone who understands what you are going through.

It is great to know some women are happy for getting a break from work, but I guess that this is a feeling that eventually fades away, depending on how long you have to wait for a Green Card. I have met others though who are unhappy and uncomfortable with the idea of not knowing when they’ll get back to work and what this downtime period will do to their careers. Some look desperately for jobs and occupations that can eventually get them a working visa, and some try to stay busy with volunteer work, studying, and whatever helps them stay sane and, well happy. The Meetups help a lot with the last one. We have become friends, family even, and I think it’s very healthy to have someone else besides your husband, when you need someone to talk to. It’s healthy to have someone else to go out with and avoid clinging to that one person/relationship.

It’s true, there are many cool aspects about not having a job and having all the free time in the world, but not being *allowed* to work is being denied your dignity and uh… oh, yes a Human Right! Don’t believe me? Here, check it out, Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a23

But hey everyday, somewhere, basic Human Rights are disrespected and no one cares right? So why should anyone care about this one?  Well, although not a lot of attention is given to the H4 issue, it has been getting some spotlight lately. Marie Claire wrote an article about it recently, where along with a couple of stories from H4 spouses,  it said: “Both the Senate and House (of Representatives) versions of the immigration legislation currently under debate include a provision that would allow H4 visa holders to work. According to the Migration Policy Institute, legislators of both parties are mostly in favor of the provision, but as a piece of the larger, divisive reform package, it’s unlikely anything will change for these women anytime soon.”

I for one have already gotten used to the idea that I won’t be working anytime soon. Neither the idea of getting a Green Card, nor some law will make me jump and get all excited, because I am well aware these things take time, because no-freaking-body cares about some immigrant ladies who are not allowed to work. Plain and simple.

Anyway, here’s the link to the article, in case any of you are interested in reading it: http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/h4-visa-debate-beyond-borders?src=spr_TWITTER&spr_id=1449_28277884

Enjoy!