I was born in Pakistan, and came to the United States in 2008 upon finishing my undergraduate degree. I enrolled in Masters program at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, IL, and obtained my degree in Industrial Technology, with a specialty in Mechanical Engineering in 2010. Following my studies, I worked in education sector before moving to H1B status and working in the oil industry in Houston, and later in Kansas City.
At this point, I’ve been in the U.S. for more than six years, shuffling through different visas. Some of my friends have spent six years in Canada and Australia and are on track to permanent legal residency, but for me it’s different. I am still on visas. My professional growth opportunities are limited, and the opportunity to leave the country is curtailed. Last year I had to go back home to Pakistan because my father had an accident. It was the first time after three and a half years that I got to see my family. This also meant I had to renew my visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
The visa process took six and a half months to get approved, and while my company was initially patient and understanding in allowing me to work remotely they could not afford to wait. A week before my visa was approved, the company put me on the leave of absence. I had visa in hand, but I had no job to come back to. Fortunately, the company managed to find a different position for me in Lawrence, Kansas. However, I ran into immigration hurdles again. Even though I was working with the same company but in a different position they had to apply for H1B amendment. Around the same time, the government shutdown occurred and I had to wait. So, I spent two and a half months waiting before the decision was handed down that I am allowed to work in December of last year.
The current U.S. immigration system blows me away. I’ve been paying taxes in this country since I was twenty two years old. Just a couple of days ago I turned twenty eight, and all my adult life I have spent here but I have nothing to show for it. In four years when my H1B expires I also won’t have anything to show for unless the current immigration system is changed. My first baby is due in July of this year and he will be a U.S. citizen. His parents won’t, and we will have to leave.
I came to the U.S. because I believed it is a land of opportunity -- and I still think it is. It has a strong economy and a wealth of opportunities for professional development. People are friendly, and in the past six years there was only one incident when someone was rude to me. I’ve been to Europe, to Germany and France, but the amount of acceptance in the U.S. is unparalleled. Equal opportunity is for everyone here. Nobody knows or cares what your visa status is unless you tell them. It’s that kind of environment.
The U.S. is a good place to raise a family as well. I could have gone to Canada and Australia, countries with friendlier immigration laws, but I chose to build future for my family here. Honestly, even now I tell my friends in Pakistan come to the U.S. despite the troubles I’ve experienced with the immigration system. The positives outweigh all the negatives I’ve experienced.
But I also worry about the future. My visa stamp expires this year, and what happens if there is an emergency at home and I need to leave and come back? What happens when my employer wants me to travel for work, and I can’t? What happens with my apartment, my friends and my life here in the U.S.? I sacrificed a lot to stay here, but the future is still uncertain because of the current immigration system.