The visa voyage

MVHS community members share experiences with U.S immigration policy


Chiran Arumugam and Darpan Singh

Three days. Three days were all that senior Aditihi Girish was given to pack “13 years of [her] life” into 12 suitcases and leave for the United States. Although her family had been anticipating this move for a couple weeks after her dad made a transfer request, the suddenness was overwhelming.

“I expected [the move] to be [in] a week or two,” Girish said. “You had to start everything from scratch, like buying a fork and a spoon, stuff like that, or finding a house for rent. It’s all hard stuff.”

Similarly, MVHS parent Ritu Maheshwari immigrated to the U.S. with her husband in August of 2001 on an H-4 Visa. When Maheshwari first came to the U.S., the aftermath of 9/11 made it more difficult for her to obtain a work permit. 

“People were losing resolve, leaving here and there, and [it was] very hard to find a sponsor [for] my H-1 Visa, so I started volunteer work in Mission College and some startups to get in touch with the technology [industry],” Maheshwari said.

Girish is currently a dependent on her father’s visa and has plans to pursue an F-1 Visa once she goes to college. Maheshwari, however, notes that due to family responsibilities in addition to the job market following 9/11, it took her about five years to secure an H-1 Visa and start working. 

“There was a lot of uncertainty when my husband was on his H-4 Visa, and I didn’t have a job and the economy was bad in 2002 and 2003, so for any decision, it took a long time to finalize,” Maheshwari said. “Even for renting or buying a house, [we weren’t sure] about buying something because we didn’t know if we could stay long or not because we might be forced to leave the country.”

MVHS Alum ‘21 Oishee Misra immigrated to the U.S. from Bangalore, India in February of 2013 when she was 10 years old, and started school halfway through fourth grade at Garden Gate Elementary School. Unlike Girish and Maheshwari, Misra’s experience with moving to her elementary school was much smoother since she immigrated at a younger age.

“When I first moved, I was not very aware of what was happening just because my parents were handling it,” Misra said. “But as I grew up, I definitely became more aware of the immigration system and I realized how complex it is and also just how arbitrary some of the rules are.”

After being in the U.S. for over 10 years, Misra and her family have not received permanent resident status or citizenship yet. Like Maheshwari, Misra believes that the road to gain citizenship in the United States is a long and difficult process that can impact daily life.

“If my parents want to switch jobs, there’s an added level of complexity to that because not only do they have to find a new job, their employer also has to be willing to sponsor an H-1B Visa, and that’s a very complicated process,” Misra said.

Furthermore, Misra says there are many restrictions enforced on immigrants as part of U.S. policy. For one, she and her family were not able to travel out of the country, her last trip to India being her dad’s first time back after seven years. When Misra started her senior year of high school, the college application process unveiled a whole new problem of applying to schools as an international student.

“I remember being very stressed out about [the college application process] because for the UCs I could apply as a California resident, and I could pay in-state tuition, but for a lot of the private schools, I had to apply as an international student because I don’t have citizenship,” Misra said.

Girish also recalls the financial aid application process being difficult, stating that “it was hard to estimate the total cost [of tuition]” and forcing her to call the financial aid office for most schools she applied to. While navigating the college application process as an immigrant, Misra also considered how it may affect job prospects after her undergraduate education. Misra remembers deciding between several majors in college because she had to balance what she actually enjoyed learning with what would give her the most job opportunities. 

“I needed to start thinking about what I’m going to do after college and if I don’t have citizenship by then, I also will need my employer to sponsor an H-1B Visa, and that just makes things more complicated,” Misra said. “I would assume that kind of deters people from my application and it feels unfair and unnecessary.” 

She notes that this was a common problem among many of the international students that she knew and that a lot of them would even apply for postgraduate education solely to stay in the country for longer. Misra believes that the current U.S. immigration policy has many consequences for both migrants and legal immigrants.

“I don’t think this country treats [immigrants] well because a lot of documents refer to them as ‘aliens,’ and why are we still using that word?” Misra said. “I think that’s kind of dehumanizing: starting from the rhetoric to also the horrible treatment of migrants at the border with the family separation, I feel like they’re just used as political pawns.”

Maheshwari, however, felt like she could understand both sides of the debate on immigration policy in the United States. She says each year, the immigration situation is changing based on the number of people coming from different countries, and that the ongoing discussion of immigration policy is bound to change. 

“Now, since I’m a U.S. citizen, sometimes I think, ‘Oh yeah, a lot of people are coming and that might be challenging for my son to get a job,’ but if the situation changes, we don’t know the government’s perspective [on immigration],” Maheshwari said.

Misra agrees with Maheshwari’s reflections on the challenges of immigration. She acknowledges the ongoing debate around U.S. immigration policy, noting how the process can be lengthy and complicated, and even those who have been in the country for many years may still face uncertainty about their citizenship status.

“Immigration is a very, very complex thing, and it’s a very complex debate with a lot of nuance,” Misra said. “I’m hesitant to say, ‘Oh, if we fix ABC, then the whole problem will be fixed,’ but I think the U.S. immigration system is in need of serious reform. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that these are real people with real lives who need to be treated [as such], not like political pawns. At the end of the day, America is a country of immigrants — immigrants have built this country.”