New Film Explores the Frustrations of Being an Indian Tech Worker in the U.S.03 May 2017
When it was created in 1990, the H1B visa program was designed to fill a critical void in the U.S. labor market. Employers needed talented, highly skilled professionals to stay competitive in the burgeoning tech industry, and the domestic labor force had a dearth of qualified applicants. The H1B visa category has been touted as a significant factor in the rise of the U.S. tech industry to global dominance over the past two decades. In recent years, however, the H1B program has become a magnet for controversy. Detractors have denounced it as an outdated program that’s vulnerable to abuse by employers who want to undercut wages, and immigrants who come to the U.S. to contribute their skills and ingenuity have been accused of “stealing” jobs from U.S. workers.
Amidst the debate and dissention regarding the use of H1B workers in the United States, it’s easy to forget that the lives of nearly one million immigrants living and working in this country in H1B status – many of whom are left waiting for years to get through an impossibly sluggish green card process – are caught in the crossfire. Fortunately, a compelling and prescient new film puts a human face on these workers. “For Here or To Go?” is a comedy / drama that explores the unique dilemma of immigrants in limbo, and it’s being praised as a deft and timely critique of our complex immigration system. The film, which contains both Hindi and English dialogue, is centered on a young tech engineer named Vivek (played by Ali Fazal) who has spent the last seven years in Silicon Valley working as an H1B worker visa in a low-level position. When he is offered his dream job at a healthcare start up, the American dream seems within his grasp – until he realizes his sponsoring employer has neglected to file updated immigration documents, leaving him with less than a year remaining in the U.S. The start-up backs away from hiring him, and Vivek is left to decide if he will persevere towards building a life in the United States, or head back to his native country of India. [See ‘For Here or to Go?’, Which Depicts the Life of U.S. Tech Workers, Hits U.S. Theaters, by Isha Roy, The American Bazaar, 1.Apr.17.]
“For Here or To Go?” was written by Rishi Bhilawadikar, an immigrant from India who worked in the information technology field for a Silicon Valley company after earning his master’s degree. In a recent interview with NBC News, Bhilawadikar reflected on how his own personal experiences with the U.S. immigration system impacted his approach to the screenplay. “The contributions of Indian immigrants from 1965 to present has been tremendous, but there’s been no mainstream media portrayal of it … I have been in line for a green card for 12 years. It is not just that the process is expensive and long, it’s that you are completely beholden to your employer. You cannot get promoted, you cannot start your own company, and if you lose your job or the company shuts down, you basically have to pack up and leave the country in two days.” [See ‘For Here Or To Go?’ Takes Viewers Inside The Limbo of the H1B Process, by Lakshmi Gandhi, NBC News, 27.Mar.17.]
Despite the obstacles faced by Bhilawadikar, as well as the characters he creates in “For Here or To Go?,” the film eventually ends on a note of determination to pursue the American dream. One particularly heartrending scene is between Vivek and one of his mentors, a Sikh small business owner in his 50s. The mentor reveals that an old friend of his was recently murdered in a hate crime, and Vivek wonders out loud why they should stay in the United States when they are surrounded by prejudice. The mentor simply responds that America is their country, too. It is this philosophy that has driven immigrants to come to our shores to contribute, to create, and to innovate, despite facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This spirit of perseverance is what makes the American dream a reality, and it won’t be destroyed by fear, hatred, or ignorance.
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