Today on Here and Now, Robin Young featured Meghna Damani, the maker of a new documentary about being made a “dependent spouse” by virtue of a U.S. immigration visa, Hearts Suspended. Damani, while living in India, was an accomplished executive with a master’s degree in marketing, and history in journalism and modeling. Having always been able to earn her own way, she thought nothing of following her husband to the United States while he worked, and she did so on an H-4 visa, a visa that allows immediate family members of the H-1B visa holders to lawfully come and stay in the U.S. What is doesn’t allow H-4 status women to do is get a social security number or work. In Damani’s artist’s statement, she says:
This film is a piece of my life that I hope will tell the story of the thousands of educated women like myself who come here every year as doctors, lawyers, architects, business professionals, artists, etc. and are forced to stay at home for an indefinite period of time. Many are abused, exploited or in just plain denial that they have lost the most precious years of their lives – irrevocably.
One of the biggest obstacles, because H-4 visas can be upgraded to working visas, is that the visa holder has to find a company that is not only willing to hire them but is also willing to go through the trouble of also legally sponsoring the women as immigrant workers. Jobs, because the women are generally highly educated, are easy to find — sponsorship is not. And because sponsorhip is so difficult to find, essentially, as Shivali Shah says in the trailer, these women are “being brought in[to the United States] only in the most base functions as women: housewives, babymakers, and sex partners.”
Listening to the radio show, it was easy to see why these women are so isolated. Their social lives revolve around their husbands’ work contacts, their independence is dependent on their husbands’ good graces, their education and work experience is for nothing. It’s hard to explain why it’s so difficult to friends and family back home because their husbands are national golden boys, and because of the opportunity narratives the U.S. cultivates worldwide.
Admittedly, I’m rather ignorant of legalities when it comes to immigration to the United States, but this segment spoke to me because of the kinds of gender divides it promotes by legal limitations. Is there anyone with H-4 immigration status in the house?
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