My story in the United States began in the fall of 1997. At the age of 18, I left everything I knew - my family and the country I grew up in to pursue undergraduate studies in the American heartland - the Midwest. Promise of limitless possibility, reward for hard work, and exciting opportunities had brought me here. I also had a secret passion - during the first Gulf War, two US warships had escorted a ship through the Suez Canal - a US oil tanker owned by Mobil (now ExxonMobil) and captained by my father. "They protected my Dad. One day, I will go to America and build warships", I thought as an innocent kid.
Driven by the promise of opportunity, I worked hard through school. With support of financial aid from two outstanding US academic institutions, on-campus jobs, and whatever financial support my parents could afford, I completed Bachelors degrees in Physics and Biomedical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration.
As I started to explore job opportunities in my final year in school, it became apparent that I would not have access to opportunities that my US Citizen friends would have. Working for a defense company to help build warships was out of the question. So I started to pursue opportunities in the other area I was passionate about - innovation in healthcare. After graduation, I began work in the healthcare practice of a management consulting firm (Deloitte).
Work at Deloitte brought me some great experience, amazing friends, and strong professional relationships. I had the opportunity to play a significant role in modernizing inpatient care at the largest healthcare delivery system in California and one of the largest in the United States. But after that project and three years at the firm, I wasn't challenged anymore. I felt like I was capable of solving more complex problems but wasn't given the opportunities to do so. I wanted to move on. I was even offered an opportunity by a Deloitte client to work directly for them. But there was a risk to switching employers - the immigration system. If I switched employers at the stage of the "process" I was in without obtaining a number in the Green Card line, the new employer would have to restart my Green Card process from scratch. Further, the Deloitte Partner that I worked under urged me to stay when the client offered me to work directly for them. She said that I had "not experienced everything Deloitte had to offer". So I stuck around at Deloitte, trying to avail myself of opportunities at the firm that would challenge me. After the fourth year, it was apparent to leadership that I wasn't enjoying my time at the firm anymore. It also seemed strange that after almost 5 years with the firm, Fragomen - the immigration law firm retained by Deloitte to handle my US Permanent Residency application, had not obtained a number for me to wait in the Green Card line. So we parted ways and I began, what at the time (end of 2008, start of the Great Recession), seemed impossible – finding an employer that would not only challenge me to the best of my abilities but also help restart my Green Card application from scratch.
After parting ways, I joined a Deloitte client as a contractor – the same client that had made me an offer a few years earlier. Although work at the client was rewarding and they were pleased with my work, I was told that due to labor union rules, the client could not hire me directly and sponsor me for Permanent Residency. And that particular contracting company had a blanket moratorium on Permanent Residency sponsorships due to the economic downturn. I was in the sixth year of my H-1B and needed to find an employer that could sponsor me and restart the Green Card process from scratch. Otherwise, I would have to leave the country and become ineligible to return for at least a year, possibly several years, and possibly never, depending on the availability of work visas. Several employers made me offers but when they realized that hiring me came with a risk of losing me to self deportation within a year due to the immigration conundrum I was in (i.e. not having a number in the Green Card line due to the questionable manner in which my Permanent Residency case was handled by Fragomen when I worked for Deloitte), they backed away. Towards the end of 2009, I started interviewing at a start-up in San Francisco. A start-up called One Medical Group.
One Medical Group brought me on in an operations leadership role. Working at this start-up challenged me and pushed me to my full intellectual and professional potential. Finally, I felt like I was using all elements of my US education and intellectual capacity. And while doing it, I was contributing to building a start-up into a midsize company. A start-up that was improving access to high-quality and convenient medical care. I helped create jobs. During my tenure, One Medical Group more than doubled its provider employee headcount, tripled its administrative staff employee headcount, and almost quadrupled membership growth. During my tenure, the company was featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. From an immigration standpoint, I made progress as well. With One Medical Group as my sponsoring employer and an excellent immigration attorney, I got a number in the Green Card line within just 8 months. This made me further question the manner in which my Green Card application was handled by Fragomen during my nearly 5 year tenure at Deloitte.
Today, I work for Archimedes Clinical Analytics – a start-up that uses mathematical predictive modeling to improve the health of individuals, populations, and simulate clinical trials. I lead initiatives to streamline and scale the deployment/development of unique preventative care tools in offices of doctors and other caregivers. These tools use predictive modeling to calculate risk of adverse events for an individual and prioritize suggested treatment to reduce that risk. In summary, we help healthcare providers deliver care that focuses on prevention - something the United States' healthcare system needs to reduce costs.
Unfortunately, my wait to become a US Permanent Resident continues, more than 18 years after I first came to this country as an undergraduate student. More than 10 years after I started working, paying taxes, and more recently, helping build start-ups that are making a positive impact on the US economy and society. In following US immigration law over these years, I've made tremendous personal sacrifices, such as spending long periods (sometimes 2 - 3 years in a stretch) away from immediate family. The system has also had a restraining effect on my career growth. According to current estimates, my wait for Permanent Residency could be another 6 years and even that is uncertain.
Why is this wait going to be so much longer? One simple reason – because of where I was born. I cannot control where I was born any more than the color of my skin; I wish the system would judge me on something I've achieved or can work to achieve. The last major change to the high-skilled immigration system occurred in 1990 - it is obsolete and does not meet the needs of US employers, the US economy, and because it's not a smart system, imposes injustice on certain skilled immigrants. It is time to update this archaic system. We need to have more merit-based selection criteria in the system - judging someone simply on their country of birth and highest academic degree achieved is archaic for the 21st century.
December 2015 update: Medium recently asked me to write about my experience as part of their #MyTimeinLine series in which immigrants have shared their experiences on what it's really like to go through the legal employment-based immigration system. You can read my post here: http://bit.ly/1P5Xdjl