I had the pleasure of reading from my book at Third Place Books Seward Park, in Seattle WA this summer. We had a nice turn out and I got a great shout-out from Seattle’s Independent Weekly, The Stranger!
I had the chance to speak with the amazing Heather Mills, attorney, negotiation specialist, and owner of Women Who Ask for her monthly podcast. Check out the full interview on her blog here:
Join us Wed @ noon PT for an Interview with Dr. Amy Bhatt: The Career Choices that Have the Biggest Impact on Our Long Term Earnings
Posted by Women Who Ask with Heather Mills on Wednesday, May 16, 2018
In May, I had the opportunity to write for The Society Pages, a publication of the Council on Contemporary Families. You can check out my piece here!
Excerpt from “Keeping ‘Dependents’ Dependent”:
“On April 24, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services rang the death knell on work authorization for spouses of high-skilled immigrant workers. Under the direction of the White House, the USCIS conducted an audit of the H-1B guest worker program, specifically to see if it complies with the President’s Buy American, Hire American executive order. In a report submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the director of the USCIS proposed sweeping changes to the program, including removing regulations that would allow the spouses of H-1B workers to obtain work permits.
Despite being an established program for almost thirty years, the H-1B program has become a target for the current administration. The H-1B visa program first came into existence after the passage of the 1990 Immigration Act. As the tech boom of the 1990s and rising fears about “Y2K” created a demand for technically-trained labor, U.S. companies began to seek workers from around the world. The H-1B is given to workers in “specialized and complex” jobs. Typically issued for three to six years, the visa allows employers to hire foreign workers.”
My latest book, High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Migrants, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration, was published by The University of Washington Press! You can order you copy here:
Tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft promote the free flow of data worldwide, while relying on foreign temporary IT workers to build, deliver, and support their products. However, even as IT companies use technology and commerce to transcend national barriers, their transnational employees face significant migration and visa constraints. In this revealing ethnography, Amy Bhatt shines a spotlight on Indian IT migrants and their struggles to navigate career paths, citizenship, and belonging as they move between South Asia and the United States.
Through in-depth interviews, Bhatt explores the complex factors that shape IT transmigration and settlement, looking at Indian cultural norms, kinship obligations, friendship networks, gendered and racialized discrimination in the workplace, and inflexible and unstable visa regimes that create worker vulnerability. In particular, Bhatt highlights women’s experiences as workers and dependent spouses who move as part of temporary worker programs. Many of the women interviewed were professional peers to their husbands in India but found themselves “housewives” stateside, unable to secure employment because of visa restrictions. Through her focus on the unpaid and feminized placemaking and caregiving labor these women provide, Bhatt shows how women’s labor within the household is vital to the functioning of the flexible and transnational system of IT itself.
“Mapping the arrival of H-1B workers from India and marriage migration, their lives in Seattle, and following them on their return to India, High-Tech Housewives provides a longue durée perspective on Indian transmigrants. Thick with descriptive narrative, High-Tech Housewives takes us into the lives of these individuals.”
-Sharmila Rudrappa, author of Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India“High-Tech Housewives makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the transnational circulation of technical labor, by highlighting the role of the household in the reproduction of the global Indian IT workforce. Through rich ethnographic detail, the book documents the experiences and predicaments of dependent spouses of temporary H1-B visa workers in the US and after their return to India, providing a human face to current debates on immigration. It is a welcome addition to the transnational and migration studies, gender and labor studies, and anthropology.”
-Carol Upadhya, author of Reengineering India: Work, Capital, and Class in an Offshore Economy
“A seminal book about how US immigration policy influences the lives of temporary workers and their families, many of whom find themselves in liminal spaces, in between nations, homes, and employment. Amy Bhatt provides readers with a clearer understanding of the problematic positions that Indian temporary workers and their families face as a result of immigration laws that prioritize economic gain over the needs of migrants.”
-Deepa Iyer, author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future
“A thoughtful examination of how immigrant women build lives and labor within the constraints of the US state, high-tech capitalism, and transnationalism, and enable a global economy.”
-Pawan Dhingra, Amherst College
“High-Tech Housewives provides a long overdue study on the large but overlooked group of temporary migrant professionals in the United States, H-1B workers, and their dependents, H-4 visa holders. This book makes an invaluable contribution by focusing on the plight of H-4 dependents, the wives, who are multiply displaced by their disqualification from labor market participation, increasing their dependence on their husbands and heightening the isolation of their migration.”
-Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, author of Servants of Globalization: Migration and Domestic Work
“Amy Bhatt offers an empirically rich, theoretically nuanced account of high-tech immigration to the United States, drawing important attention to the interplay of gender, occupation, and family dynamics. This book is essential reading on how the ‘temporary’ migration of high-skilled workers and their families are fundamentally reshaping our notions of citizenship, social relations, and national belonging.”
-Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of AAPI Data and professor of public policy, University of California Riverside
“In India, #MeToo is hardly the first digital turning point in the fight to end rape and sexual assault. “An attempt has been made in India to protect women,” says Amy Bhatt, associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, “but legislation has mostly been used to limit women, rather than to protect them. Young women activists are pushing against that and using these type of hybrid online and in personal awareness-raising campaigns to create change and demand accountability.””
Check out this article by Zofeen Maqsood in Little India about the changing and challenging immigration landscape that South Asian immigrants are facing under the Trump administration:
An excerpt from End of the American Dream:
“The media has focused extensively on the Trump administration’s harsher policies against undocumented immigrants, travel bans from Muslim majority countries, and building a wall at the southern border.
Dr. Amy Bhatt, associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, says: “I think there is a problem with thinking of this as just a H-1B or H-4 problem. The current administration is attacking immigrants on all fronts, from Dreamers and DACA recipients, to people who have been living and contributing to the U.S. economy without documentation, to refugees and asylum seekers.”
I had the pleasure with speaking with The Seattle Times about my research on H-4 visa holders in this feature on immigration published on February 18, 2018: “With work permits in limbo, spouses of H-1B visa holders worry they’ll lose jobs.”
I had the pleasure of writing for the #GenderAnd series in The Indian Express. In this piece, “From dependents to deportees: How US immigration policy is impacting Indian families,” I write about the impacts that changes to the H-1B/H-4 visa program are likely to have on Indian families in the U.S. and call for greater immigrant alliances.
Within the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the world has seen him make good on several election promises intended to stymie the flow of immigrants to the United States. Besides instituting the “Muslim travel ban,” heightening the scrutiny of refugees and asylum seekers, ending protected status programs for Haitians, Nicaraguans and El Salvadorans, and removing work authorization for undocumented youth, Trump’s administration has taken direct aim at the Indian-dominated H-1B and H-4 visa programs. This latest round has ramifications for hundreds of thousands of temporary immigrants and particularly hurts women who migrate through family reunification programs.
The H-1B visa program brings high-skilled workers to the US to work in fields such as technology, finance and education. It is granted for three to six years and is a “dual-intent” visa, which means its holders can apply for permanent residency and eventually, US citizenship. The program, which has been in effect in its current form since 1990, also allows spouses and children under the age of 21 years to migrate with workers on the H-4 family reunification visa.
In recent months, Trump has taken steps to severely curtail this program, creating havoc for families who have been living and working the US for years. After announcing the “Buy American, Hire American” plan, the White House quickly proposed rescinding work authorization for some H-4 visa holders and to eliminate visa extensions for H-1B workers who are in the process of applying for permanent residency.
These changes are intended to reduce foreign competition to the US workforce. By restricting high-tech workers’ spouses and workers already in the process of changing from “temporary” to “permanent” status, the current administration hopes to push immigrants to “self-deport”. While this is not the first time the Indian community has faced restrictive immigration policies, there is a renewed fervor to limit families from immigrating and settling in the US.
While the H-1B visa has historically been a selling point for young men on the marriage market, the escalated attacks on the program have led to a drop in the desirability of “H-1B grooms.” And yet, an all-time high of 136, 393 H-4 visas were issued in 2017, bringing the count of H-4 visas to 677,843 between 2012-2017.
For her book, High Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor and Transmigration, this author conducted over a hundred interviews with H-1B and H-4 visa holders to understand how their lives were shaped by the temporary work program. Overwhelmingly, the women who migrate to the US are often highly-educated and trained professionals. However, if they come through the H-1B program as spouses, they are considered “dependents” and unable to work.
This forced hiatus from the labor market made them economically vulnerable and forced them into the position of “housewife,” even though they may have had robust careers while living in their home countries. While many readily make that trade-off in order to support their spouses’ careers or to pursue new economic opportunities for their families, the cost they bear is high.
In 2015, President Obama issued an executive order granting work authorization for some H-4 visa holders. However, with the Trump administration’s latest policy change, this lifeline for dependent spouses is now in jeopardy.
Radha (name changed) is a classic case of an H-4 visa holder who will be hurt by changes to the program. Though she had been working in Chennai, after she joined her husband in Seattle in 2010, she was forced to take a break from working when his visa changed. “Back home, you are something, but when you come the US, you are just your husband’s baggage,”she recalls.
She spent her first few years in the US getting certifications to work as a certified public accountant. However, she was unable to put her training to use. After the Obama-era rule change, she was granted work authorization and began working again. “It’s a big deal, the financial independence, taking a break from the house, and to keep intellectually occupied,” Radha added, “it’s the American dream where both people are working and earning.”
Being stripped of her ability to work would be a blow for Radha, no doubt. But even worse would be the possibility that her and her husband’s visas would not be extended while they await their green card. As of January 2018, the US government is processing green card applications of H-1B visa holders filed in 2008. Radha is frustrated: “We don’t have any sense of security now. We are afraid to even visit India in case they don’t let us back in. We have worked so hard and now we are in this limbo.”
Likewise, Bhanu (name changed), was eager to start working after being in the US for more than a decade. With a Master’s degree in computer science and five years of software experience in India, she left her job after her husband accepted a temporary position abroad. When she finally got her employment authorisation, she faced a new obstacle: how to overcome the long gaps in her resume?
Though she switched careers and was able to start working as a teacher, with the pending policy changes, Bhanu could be forced back home: “Without a work permit here, life in America is hell. It’s really frustrating. Volunteering is fine, but when you do the full-time volunteering, school or anywhere, you get the feeling that, are we servants just to work and not get paid?”
The case of high-skilled migration is only one front of the anti-immigration onslaught. Even though the rationale of H-1B/H-4 restrictions are presumably to benefit American workers, there is a more insidious goal: reducing the numbers of immigrant families overall. Now framed as “chain migration,” new attempts to cut back on family based immigration for all are afoot in Congress and the White House.
Even though family reunification has been recognized as a human right by the United Nations and a key part of American history, these policy changes represent a fundamental shift in how the nation sees itself and the rest of the world. These attacks are also intended to sow discord by pitting “skilled” against “unskilled” immigrants.
From “Dreamers” to software developers, a comprehensive strategy is needed that pushes back against these various attempts to keep immigrants and their families out. “America First” should never mean “American only”.
#GenderAnd is dedicated to the coverage of Gender across intersections. You can read our reportage here.
In White men may be biggest winners when a city snags Amazon’s HQ2, Dillon Mahmoudi and I use our research to examine the potential gender and race effects of Amazon’s HQ2 on host cities.
You might call today’s race to get Amazon’s second headquarters a modern form of that phenomenon as municipalities compete in a zero-sum game for tech company outposts.
The Trump Administration’s Visa Rules Are an Attack on Immigrant Women
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last week that the Trump administration intends to stop issuing employment authorization documents (EAD) to H-4 visa holders, who are the spouses and dependents of H-1B temporary workers.
A 2015 Obama-era rule change granted certain H-4 visa holders the right to work legally while awaiting a green card; previously, many of these also highly-educated spouses of H-1B visa holders were stuck at home, unable to use their skills. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already made clear that he does not intend to enforce this rule—and now the Trump administration is going even further to rescind the measure, declaring that employers should instead “buy American and hire American.”
Since the majority of H-1B visa holders are men, we can presume that women will be the ones hurt most by changes to the H-4 visa. For women who have spent years training and working before migrating, the H-4 EAD rule change was a chance to reignite their stalled careers. In 2016, more than 41,000 work authorizations for qualified women already in the U.S. were approved. As of June 2017, 36,000 more were approved according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Work restrictions have an impact on H-4 visa holders’ careers, mental health and sense of belonging. A woman who migrated with her spouse and had a computer engineering degree shared her frustration about waiting for the right to work. “I wanted to come to the United States so I could start my own career,” she told Ms. “But now, I am sitting at home, with nothing to do. Every day is like a jail.”
As Amazon, a major participant in the H-1B visa program, continues to vet cities across the United States to expand its second headquarters, the demand for highly skilled workers will only grow. Promising to create more than 50,000 well-paying jobs, companies like Amazon are on the hunt for the best sources of talent. Ignoring the tens of thousands of women already in the U.S. with the right qualifications makes little sense—especially when the pool of highly skilled workers is already shrinking.
Limiting H-4 visa holders in order to encourage employers to “hire American” ignores how the multi-billion dollar global high tech market actually functions. Instead of tapping into the specialized skills of highly educated H-4 visa holders, the Department of Homeland Security is shutting doors to potential employees who are already here and more than willing to join this workforce.
In February 2018, a public comment period will open at the Department of Homeland Security about these rule changes and other immigration policies. Don’t let the Trump administration take the power to work away from more women. Stand up, speak up and fight back.
Dr. Amy Bhatt is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Her research focuses on the effects of migration on gender and families. She is the author of High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration and the co-author of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.
Catalina Sofia Dansberger Duque is a interviewer, writer and speaker. She focuses on people who have chosen to breathe life into challenging situations and live a life filled with love, joy and passion despite overwhelming stereotypes. Catalina is a Communication Manager for the Humanities & Social Sciences at UMBC. She has contributed to Huffington Post, UpWorthy and Gay Family Trips, among others.