My H1B Tales (1) : Coming to America

On a summer day in 2,000, I waited outside the U.S. Consulate in Qatar. I had to make a decision. Should I go to the US?

Qatar, the tiny, thumb-shaped peninsula had just found her place in the world. The country’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Al Thani had opened up her immense natural gas reserves to foreign investors.

I worked as a reporter writing on energy and politics for an English language daily. Four years into the job, the country’s largest bank unexpectedly offered me a job as an analyst. I was beyond thrilled as it came with a fourfold increase in pay and generous perks. I accepted the offer and got ready to tell my employer that I was leaving.

And then, my world fell apart.

Qatar had a “sponsorship system,” called kafala where your in-country sponsor technically “owned” you. Once you were in the country your sponsor had the right to take your passport. The newspaper was my sponsor and its general manager, was my “owner.”

I needed my “owner’s” permission to change my sponsorship and transfer me to another “owner.” So I went to him to make the request.

He said : No. I asked again: No.

He was a pious man. I knew he couldn’t change his mind and I had no remorse. We were on the same boat.

My modern day slave owner had to believe in the kafala. If he gave me a chance, I would set a bad precedent and others might ask.

I left Qatar protesting the kafala, a form of modern day slavery that some Gulf countries have since banned. I believe kafala has numbed the skills and productivity of generations of people from mostly South Asian countries. The system has hurt the Arabs more than expats because curtailing workers freedoms makes them do monotonous jobs and be less productive.

19 years ago, on that summer day, I had no American dream. I was looking for a reason to leave Qatar, to escape the kafala and the trauma of being forever “owned.”

Thus began my H1B journey into the United States. Stay tuned for more.

An office throws a “green card” party

How many of us can genuinely say that we are well-liked at work?

My concept of being really liked at work changed last Friday.

It was just another day as I walked in after a doctor’s appointment. But things looked different as I strolled through the hallway…my team gave me a “green carpet” welcome! A “green carpet” greeted me, a six-pack Heineken sat next to me; green balloons filled my office, green skittles and life-saver mints fought for space on my desk. A few green files reminded me of work and a green battle fist game  said play is important.

My very creative team added a Monster energy drink and green Kleenex tissues, in case I got really excited or cried.

They celebrated and cheered me for the end to my eight year ordeal. Like thousands of Indians waiting for their green cards, I dealt  with a slower than a snail bureaucracy, a government that constantly double dipped on work and entry permits,and  lawyers eager to charge fees if you were in the vicinity of their zip codes. Not to talk of dreaded “visa bulletins,” those monthly morgues on cyberspace.

We are living in times when employee loyalty has plummetted. Bosses fiddle with bean counters under their desks and in case you get stressed, squeeze balls are there for you.

 I am just plain lucky. I felt honored, humbled and above all really well-liked at work. Our team was more excited than me getting a green card!

My boss went out of the way, summoned the photographer from the marketing department and asked that she capture “the moment.” And, a colleague remarked that I had an authentic smile on my face.

I am part of a team that has very less in common with me in upbringing, heritage, or tastes. But last Friday reminded me that there is hope in America. For all my friends waiting for a “green card,” do not despair. It is worth it.

Disclaimer: I  no longer go to work every morning. I share my talents and passion serving our constituents every day.