Inside out

Last week I watched “Inside out” with some of my friends who are also on an H-4 visa. Never a movie hit home quite like this one has. The movie isn’t about immigrants moving to the US but the plot is so similar to what most of us have to go through that I could totally relate to Riley. Moving to a new place (another country or another state) is definitely scary and emotionally draining. There’s just so much newness it is overwhelming.

While on an H4 visa there were so many other things I’ve had to get used to though. As if leaving everything behind and the cultural shock weren’t enough, not being able to work made everything worse. Feeling lonely and like I had no purpose came soon after. I also kind of felt like a fraud and that I had betrayed myself by becoming a dependent housewife that I think I was mostly angry at myself but at some point directed those feelings toward my husband. Not good! If you are considering moving to the US on an H4 here are some things you need to have in mind.

Your spouse got a new, awesome career opportunity and you’ve decided to accept this challenge together because chances like this don’t happen every day. Maybe you are happy and excited about this change or maybe you aren’t quite as happy to leave everything (family, friends, your own career) behind. This is probably the first big difference between a peaceful, happy life or marriage problems. If you are in the latter mode, chances are you are not going to have a good time. Frustration and anger can quickly crawl into your life and poison your relationship. Deal with these feelings and discuss them with your spouse. You are in this together, you can solve these problems together.

Once you arrive lots of things will be happening. Depending on where you come from, you’re tired and recovering from jetlag. Your life is upside down, packed in boxes which are either on their way or already arrived. If the company hiring your partner helps you out, the first month or two you’ll probably be staying at temporary housing and you’ll soon have to look for a new place to live. So, you just moved and you’ll have to move again. Forget stability for the first months, but accept the changes and play along. Everything will be better soon.

When moving to a new country you’re back to square one – everything you knew and took for granted is gone. Your favourite places, the nearest supermarket, the gym, the library, schools, etc – gone. You’ll have to relearn everything: the language (if you don’t speak it), where to shop, what to shop, where the good and bad areas are, where to volunteer and/or study, places to have coffee, how things work in general, traffic rules, cultural rules, where to buy/rent a place, where are the good schools/kindergartens, and so on. Things you did or learned gradually back home, you’ll have to learn in just a matter of months.

You won’t be able to work which means you won’t immediately meet new people. You won’t have your friends and family to support you. Even trying to see and talk to them via video conference can be a challenge due to time differences. You’ll have to make new friends if you don’t want to spend your days alone. There may not be a lot of places where you can look for friends, but there is Meetup and you can look for something you like to do and find a meetup near you and this way you might get to know people and even make friends. I couldn’t find any groups related to H-4 in the South Bay so I created my own. Which you can also do! The only problem might be that it is not free to organize a Meetup, so there is that to consider.

You’ll have to be ready to spend a lot of time on your own. Your spouse/partner will be working all day, maybe even for long hours. Loneliness and depression does sometimes set in. If you have children this can either be a good thing (at least you’re busy) or extremely tiring because you have to do it on your own. Finding daycare and a good school can be tough, and getting a place in those institutions even tougher. Go online and look for local groups of other moms. They might be able to help you out with this as well as other things.

In order to have some independence, especially in the suburbs, you’ll need to get a driver’s licence and a car. Buying a car from a dealership was the worst experience we’ve ever had. I don’t recommend it at all, but it needs to be done. They simply don’t seem to understand the concept of looking for cars and prices and then make a decision. Obviously they want to sell, so they shove a car down your throat (not literally, but it kind of feels that way) and won’t let you leave until you sign a contract. The DMV is also famous for not being the greatest experience ever, so good luck! It’s common for foreigners to fail the “behind the wheel” test, so don’t worry if this happens to you too.

H-4s can open a bank account, but since you won’t have a SSN (Social Security Number), your spouse will probably have to do that. Not that you really need a SSN to open a bank account but they do ask for it. Most banks allow you to have a joint account with your spouse and have your own debit card. It’s hard to get a credit card at first because if you have never lived in the US you won’t have a credit history here, therefore no credit. I know a few H-4 spouses who weren’t allowed to get their own card (with their name on it) and had to use a card with their husband’s name on it . I’m not sure if this can become an awkward situation when you have to sign and/or show your ID and the names don’t match.

You’ll go through the normal culture shock. The most basic and simple things – like ordering food, putting gas in your car, riding a bus – can become quite funny or just plain irritating. It depends on your attitude. If you come from a place where public transportation is good, prepare to be disappointed. The suburbs in particular are bad! New York might be the only place in the US where you can get away with using the subway. In SF things don’t work quite as well, I hear. We have BART, bus, trams etc but I keep hearing people complain how bad it is and how long it take to get anywhere. Living in the South Bay of SF though, makes it look like it works wonderfully. Things are so bad in the South Bay that most of the big tech companies have their own private bus/shuttle fleet system going on for their employees.

The cherry on top of the cake is the tipping culture.  I would say it is probably the thing foreigners dread the most and it takes some time to get used to (well, maybe the healthcare system takes the trophy). Most (if not all) the foreigners come from places where there is no tipping system. People get payed by their *employers* not the customers and they make enough money (usually) that they don’t have to rely on tips. When we arrived, someone drove us from the airport to our temporary apartment. When he dropped us off and we got our bags out of the car we could see he was expecting something. He was expecting a tip. We didn’t even have dollars yet, and we didn’t know we were supposed to tip. We thanked him so very much and that was all we could do. Giving him Euros would probably not be of any help to him anyway. After that I looked it up online and I read somewhere you are supposed to tip almost *everywhere*! I thought you only had to tip in restaurants, but no. You tip your hairdresser, the taxi driver, the manicure/pedicure, the waitress, the cleaning crew at hotels, the bell boys, the person who cleans your car, etc and so on. What the heck, I thought! I won’t have any money left for myself! Also, you are supposed to tip at least 10%, but that’s only if you are not happy with the service. So 15 or 20% is better, according to some people. (Insane, isn’t it!)

The good news though is you will be able to volunteer and study. Volunteering can be tricky because you can only volunteer with an NGO and a position that is posted as volunteer, so keep that in mind. Often times people send applications but don’t hear back from the organizations. You can either insist and call them to see if they received it or look for another place. There are very many organizations looking for volunteers so just keep looking and keep trying until you find something. This will not only give you a chance to feel useful but it will also help you meet people and stay busy.

Lots of people go back to school too. There are lots of state universities and places where you can improve and update your skills. It will certainly be useful in the future and you will be busy.

Getting back to the movie, there is a moment when Riley opens up to her parents about how she really feels about the move. They in turn let her know that they are also missing home and it’s scary for them too. The most important thing you can do if you are having a bad time getting used to your new life is talk to your spouse and children and deal with those feelings. Understand why you made the decision to quit your job to support him or her and accept that it is temporary and that you will be able to work again. Realize that you are not your job title. You have lots of other interests and can definitely do a lot more than what you were doing before. Value yourself, your whole self, and find something to do you identify with while you aren’t allowed to have a job. Learn new things! I’ve learned so many things I never thought I could do in these past years and learned to love new things I didn’t even know existed. This is one situation that can hardly be solved by getting upset, so just enjoy it and use it to your benefit and the benefit of your family.

You can always go back home if it really doesn’t work, anyway. Lots of people do. That’s another thing you need to get used to: losing friends. It takes a while to make them, and they leave (or you’ll leave). Everything about this Visa seems and sort of is temporary. Accept it. Live it. Enjoy it.

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.

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!

Tea time

I love tea. It’s a wonderful, warm drink (I prefer hot tea) and I just can´t get enough of it. Some teas are better than others, but in general they are comforting. Today my tea comforted me in more than just one way – the tag had a sentence saying: “You will feel fulfilled when you do the impossible for someone else”. And that pretty much sums up what makes people agree to move here on an H4 Visa. When you love someone, who will do the impossible to make him/her happy.

H4 is a form of enslavement

Sometimes I get the feeling people think H4s should be grateful for this “eternal holiday” kind of life we are put in. Well, news flash: when you don’t choose it (doesn’t matter what it is), you are not going to be happy about it for very long. You may try to like it, you may even like it some days, but in general being forced to be financially supported by someone is humiliating and degrading. Most H4s I know feel pretty much the same way. Most H4s were working, independent ladies/men who gave it all up to join their husbands. Most of the time with hopes H4 wouldn’t really be that bad or that somehow they could get a working/student Visa soon. From what I gather, some people have to wait for 5, 6 even more years.
It is a stressful and unnecessary situation that puts a lot of pressure in marriages and the individuals that have to go through it. It’s about time someone realizes this is absurd!
And please don’t expect us to go about this as if it is business as usual because it isn’t. Most husbands don’t understand why we’re so pissed off about it because they have their normal life, they go to work, they do what they love, they work with amazing, fun people, so for them it is life as usual. Try to put yourself in our shoes though and imagine what it would be like if all of that was taken away from you and overnight you have to re-invented yourself, in a strange country, with no friends, no family and in some cases without speaking the language. Try to imagine having to stop being a creative, useful person to being a … leisure person (as some people call it). It’s not that we don’t try to like and enjoy it. We do. But it’s not the same thing trying to be busy and actually being busy. Of all people H1Bs should know how important having a job and doing what you like is. Heck, you moved all the way across the freaking globe to do yours! Why on earth would you think that being forced to not doing it should be taken lightly and gladly?
I very often wonder if President Obama and the First lady have heard of this and if they would care. When I read about their immigration plans it seems there is only one issue: the Mexican border. It’s a big country, I know, there are tons of problems to be solved. H4 is also one of them and I never even heard one relevant person mention it. And how does that makes us feel? Even more invisible…

Meetup group for H4s in the South Bay area

Heads up to all H4s in the Bay Area! There’s a support group on Meetup for us. The first meeting will be on the 19th of April. Join us!

South Bay H4 visa spouses support group

Sunnyvale, CA
255 H4s

This is a group for H4 Visa spouses living in Silicon Valley who want to get together and create a support network for those in the same situation. Let’s share experiences and…

Check out this Meetup Group →

Quick update: There is also a Meetup group for H4’s in San Francisco. First meeting tomorrow!!! http://www.meetup.com/H4-SF-FTW/

Connect!

While having to stay at home can be a bore, it doesn’t really have to be that way. There’s plenty of things out there to do, you just need to look for them (with internet and a computer these days it’s very simple. If you don’t have it at home you can go to the nearest library). It can take time to find something you like, but hey, we (H4’s) have all the time in the world don’t we?  

I came across this website called Meetup (www.meetup.com) and I thought I would share the info. It looks like a really cool place to connect with people who share the same interests. So, while you are forced to stay at home (as in not being allowed to work), you can use your free time to connect with other people (and you should!) and have fun. Staying at home getting depressed is really not a good idea. Getting a working visa or the Green card can take a very long time. Use you time wisely! Enjoy!