Alone at home with a H4 visa

Every October, thousands of Indians fly to US shores with their well educated spouses who are forced to sit at home with the “H4” syndrome.


Little did Menaka Uday, a Masters in Business Administration from a reputed Indian school, know what lay in store when her husband bagged a lucrative job at a major IT firm in the US. She was overwhelmed with joy as her flight flew to new land with her husband. Everything seemed fine until she learnt that H4 visa holders were not authorised to work in the country.

Adding to her agony was the realization that her Indian graduation degree was not recognised in these foreign shores. Uday, a resident in the US since 2011, who had enjoyed a fair career run in India, is now dejected and depressed, spending her days at home and depending on her husband for every financial need. “I was very career driven and I enjoyed working in India. It is very difficult to sit idle every day. People suggested that I take up voluntary work, such as in a library or some other public institution. But, I am not looking for something to pass the time; I really want to build a strong career,” she says, despair evident in her voice.

This is not the story of Menaka Uday alone; this is the plight of all dependants who travel with a H4 Visa and accompany their highly skilled spouses to the US. They are relegated to simply killing time by loafing around, watching television, browsing online, or doing nothing at home. According to an article in The Hindu, 1,00,000 to 1, 50,000 people – mostly women – fly to the US on H4 visas and sit idle.

h4 visa 1

A dipstick study points to a high level of depression among married women who come to the US on H4 visa. “There is a dreadful silence here which sometimes makes me feel that this is the end of my life. How long can I watch movies, try different recipes and read books? Sometimes I feel so depressed that I cannot even talk when my husband is back from work. Staying here on H4 visa has made my self-confidence go for a toss,” says Sona Saravanan from Chennai.

However, every year, life continues, and in October, several thousand Indians are hired by companies abroad, yet unfortunately no attention is paid to the families.

The H1 B is a non-immigrant visa which allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in speciality occupation. H4 visa is issued to the dependent family members (spouse and children) of the H1 B visa holders who would like to accompany the H1 visa holder to the US during their period of stay.

According to recent statistics, 55,000 IT professionals have come to the US on H1B visas. However, some of them have left their spouses behind as they cannot work here. Anand Raman, a native of Kerala, presents one such case. “My wife has been working for the last two years in India. It is difficult to stay separate, but I think this is better than bringing her here and keeping idle,” added Raman. “A few of my friends are there in the US and they have told me about their life on H4 visa. I cannot sit at home all day long. That’s why we decided to stay separate,” added Reshmi Anand from Kerala.

Interestingly, a few like Archana Nair from Kerala, who is an electronics and communications engineer, says that the only way ahead for her is to pursue a masters degree in the US. She has joined University of California for a Masters Programme in Information Systems. “Back in India, my life was busy with work, spending time with friends and family; after getting to the US, although the initial days were fun as I was enjoying marital bliss and getting accustomed to new surroundings, things began to change. I was frustrated as I was wasting my skills and knowledge. That’s when I decided to [earn] a master’s degree here,” she adds.

Security-personnel-outside-the-US-Embassy-in-New-Delhi-on-Dec.-17-2013-AFP

Pic – AFP

Nithya Bipin from Dubai have a different story to share. The couple decided to get back to India, since she was left out with no opportunity to work here. Bipin’s wife was working in Dubai before marriage as a HR consultant. They lived in the US for a year and left for India as she couldn’t work here. “I was left with no hope. I had been working in Dubai and its truly difficult for someone who has always been on her toes to be bound up at home all day. I was getting frustrated and we decided to get back to India,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, in the month of April every year, when fresh H1 visa applications are accepted, the media creates a hue and cry about permitting H4 visa holders to work, and it soon dies. The US government has announced that it will bring a few amendments in the visa rules that will allow some of the dependants to work this year too. Despite the endless discussions on work permit for the H4 visa holders, nothing productive has been done yet.

The issue is not without support: ‘H4 Visa, a curse‘ for example, is the title of a Facebook page that lashes out at the concerned authorities. The title is the same for twitter and other personal blogs and websites. Rashi Bhatnagar, a journalist from India, who currently resides in the US, is the administrator of the Facebook page and has been running it since 2011. “I have been following  and advocating the H4 visa work permit rule and equal rights since 2011.

h4 visa 2

After signing the White House petition in 2011, we have received a  reply from the White House regarding this proposed rule. But after three years, the related authorities have finally opened this rule for  public comments because it will be an administrative fix ( Executive order)  not a Bill which has to be passed both in the House and the Senate. I am quite hopeful that this rule will be implemented soon.” she says. This issue has affected the mental health of many women, she says, most of whom have spoken to her at some point. “H4 visa situations also include domestic violence, identity issues,breaking up of families and more,” she adds.

And as the US Government spins into endless debates and discussions about H4 and how to proceed, qualified women wait in their ‘golden H4 cages’, forced to choose between a life of doing nothing but being married versus putting their talent and minds to good use.

Navami Sreekumar is an Editorial Intern with The Alternative. The Alternative editorial internship is a chance for students and working professionals across the globe to work with the magazine’s editors in creating real-time content, photo and video stories and more while exploring the fascinating world of sustainability and social impact as it unfurls around us. Write to editor@thealternative.in if you are interested in exploring an internship.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Navami Sreekumar is a Post-Graduate in Mass Communication and Journalism, who is married and settled in the United States of America. She is currently pursuing M.phil in Communication. She has taken a few classes in Public Relations for the UG and PG students in GR Damodaran College Of Science, Coimbatore during her period of study there. She has also undergone a training at ,The Hindu Newspaper... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Navami Sreekumar is a Post-Graduate in Mass Communication and Journalism, who is married and settled in the United States of America. She is currently pursuing M.phil in Communication. She has taken a few classes in Public Relations for the UG and PG students in GR Damodaran College Of Science, Coimbatore during her period of study there. She has also undergone a training at ,The Hindu Newspaper... more
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  • p narasimha murthy

    Unfortunate not only for women but also for men who are having mental agony by being idle. My daughter also undergone such situation, now trying to adjust, hoping for better tomorrow. Thanks to whatsapp, skype we were able to talk to her reguarly, but that is not sufficient. With this I hope you all agree all that glitters is not gold. and no country is better than our mother land INDIA!

    • heart1 heart2

      so true ..All that glitters is not gold
      have lived (after marriage)abroad for some time .
      . must tell that no matter however clean the roads are there /however glittery the buildings are however calm the surroundings are how much ever discipline and order is seen every where ….back then the heart would always long for India..
      It used to long for nagging relatives who would keep asking some thing or other /it used to long to to see dusty roads//those moments of imperfection where there is some amount of chaos when some one tries to enter a long standing queue and tries to get in /.
      ..some interest to know what is happening in the surroundings/curisoity glances / some sort of enthusiasm and liveliness.
      India is very lively with all its spirits… irrespective of whatever be the negativity news papers seem to project often
      Realised that there is no charm in everything being so perfect everything being served on a platter and given to be fed ….which is what is life abroad.,
      learnt that beauty of life lies in coping with small troubles /day to day challenges and appreciating the imperfections .India is a soulful country .
      By any means dont mean to say those who live abroad are suffering or not enjoying and suggesting that they should come back .
      They might have a great wonderful prosperous life .Not writing this to change their minds by any means ..Best wishes to them .
      But wanted to say if Indian people learn to see beauty in everything.. accept the way things are while… honestly trying to improve them for the better then India is wonderful .

  • IT is true that lot of women at home are wasting their talent in India as they have so much of talent and not to waste that talent they should start working from home