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Oct 26, 2012

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Rishi Bhilawadikar, Working Professional

Rishi Bhilawadikar, Working Professional

When you’re caught between a rock and a hard-place, every decision seems daunting and every solution unattainable. Now, combine the situation with deceit and a clock quickly running out of time.

Welcome to Rishi Bhilawadikar’s reality.

A 29 year-old interaction designer in the Bay Area, Rishi’s story may at first seem unassuming. His should be a pretty straightforward case. A graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington Campus, Rishi holds a master’s degree and entered the U.S. under a F-1 student visa. After graduating, Rishi joined the U.S. workforce and has a H-1B work visa. He is a highly skilled worker with over five years of professional experience and a steady job.

But, this is where it gets tricky. Rishi has attempted to submit his immigration application four times. Each time, his efforts were thwarted due to circumstances outside of his control. The 2008 recession, which led to budget cuts; a change of rules from the Department of labor; layoffs at his workplace; and a less than transparent employer have all contributed to Rishi’s complicated situation.

“For a over two years, my employer, a very large American company with international presence, continued to keep me under the impression that my immigration application would be filed under the advanced category (general wait time 5-7 years),” said Rishi. “But when the rubber hit the road, they rescinded on their word and instead will file it in the general category (general wait time 15-20 years).”

And, while the company would eventually file his paperwork, wait times just to enter the immigration queue can easily take close to 14-16 months. Rishi only has 20 months left on his current visa.

“I spent a lot of my pending visa time with this one company; without my immigration application going anywhere,” said Rishi. “With very little time left on my visa, other employers refused to even conduct interviews. When I did land two offers, my reason for choosing between one offer over the other wasn’t based on job content or career prospects; but, rather on which one would be willing to start the immigration application immediately. After passing several rounds of interviews, this frequently becomes a bottleneck in closing out offers. It requires extremely hard negotiation with separate efforts and language needed to convince the hiring manager, the HR and the lawyers. Making a successful pitch for your case is rare, and it feels like it all boils down to sheer luck.”

Rishi thus must stay in his job for an unknown number of years instead of pursuing his own real interests. He has spent nearly a decade curating his network in the Bay area. It is where his professional and personal life reside. It is where he wants to continue to grow.

“The immigration process creates a lot of uncertainty when it comes to life decisions such as family, marriage, changing jobs, purchasing property or starting one’s own business,” said Rishi. “Since there are no guarantees built into the system of maintaining a legal status- in fact quite the opposite; there’s absolutely no incentive to take on other challenges. Just fulfilling my potential is a more pertinent question than fulfilling my ambitions.”

Rishi has hopes of one day starting his own venture, which would leverage his unique blend of design, technology and film experience.

“The way I look at it is that these are my best, potentially most productive years of my life where I have the enthusiasm and energy to try and build something new,” said Rishi. “It is extremely deflating and demoralizing to fight each day just to get myself in a line that will place me into a long, unknown period of limbo.”

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