‘I Was Restricting Myself to This One Country All This Time’: An Immigrant’s Search for Work in the U.S.

As a result of Trump’s April 2017 “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, immigration policies have become more strict toward companies applying for H-1B visas, making it much harder for them to hire highly-skilled legal immigrants. And while the U.S. still attracts top talent from around the world, these more rigid policies make education and employment in other countries more feasible and attractive.

For Philadelphia magazine, Gina Tomaine describes the challenges her future brother-in-law, Akirt Sridharan, faced while looking for work in the U.S. Sridharan, a 26-year-old man from India, graduated from the University of Delaware with an MBA and a master’s in electrical engineering. He had spent $125,000 on tuition in the U.S., and after graduating in May 2017, had applied to 2,000 jobs — with no success.

After graduating, Akirt began an odyssey into the byzantine American job market. He had high hopes at first, with an early lead at a financial company in Delaware. But after a second interview, the company learned he needed visa sponsorship and stopped the conversation.

“I’ve been sleeping on so many couches, they’ve just become my bed,” says Akirt. “I obviously never wanted to burden anybody, and that feeling is always in the back of my head. When you’re at someone else’s place all the time, you don’t know where home is anymore.”

He applied to more jobs. Then more jobs. He moved to San Francisco, since that’s supposed to be where the tech jobs are centered. Many companies wanted to hire him. What they didn’t want? To sponsor a visa at a time when applications are often rejected and the lottery system is a gamble.

All of this has been happening, of course, as tech companies in particular are desperate for skilled workers.

With no prospects, Akirt began to look for work outside of the U.S., and after four years of living in the country, he left. And suddenly, he was getting job interviews.

Akirt landed on November 7th in Chennai, a burgeoning start-up hub — the city his parents are originally from and have retired to. Their white marble high-rise apartment, whose decor features Hindu gods and goddesses, African tribal artwork, and every Apple product imaginable, sits next to a huge technological park — one that’s currently hiring Americans. Now that he was looking beyond the United States, Akirt seemed to have opportunities everywhere.

“I was restricting myself to this one country all this time,” he said. “Now, I have hundreds of countries left to explore.”

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