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‘I Don’t Want to Stay in a Country That Doesn’t Want Me As Badly as I Want It’

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The borders of our world cut not only across international boundaries, they also increasingly stretch deeply into the interior of nations—into our homes, cities, communities, courts, and everyday interactions. Citizenship status, visa status, vulnerability to deportation—these are just a few of the dividing lines increasingly separating our country into different communities with starkly different options for how or if its members become full participants in our national experiment.

As immigrants in the United States, both documented and not, are increasingly under attack—stripped of their status, arrested, and deported—it’s critical that their stories are heard across these borders. “Migrant Voices” is an oral testimony project from The Nation exploring, and listening to, a variety of immigrant voices: from recent arrivals to asylum seekers making their case in the courts, from the undocumented keeping under the radar to the DACAmented on the front lines—people from all over the world who have fled or left their homes and are looking to find, or keep, their place in America.

This is the second installment of this series, and there will be a new one each month—follow the series here and read the first installment, with the Nigerian asylee running New York City’s only homeless shelter for refugees, here.

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18 years old
First-year astrophysics major at an elite American university and H-4 visa holder

There are a dizzying array of visa categories that the US offers to immigrants to our country, with an equally byzantine system of restrictions that accompany each category. The H-1B visa allows highly educated people—doctors, scientists, engineers—to come and work in the US if they are sponsored by an employer here. They and their families can stay in the country up to six years, or longer in some cases if they apply for legal permanent residence. But the families of H-1B visa holders fall into a different visa category—as Ananya does. She has an H-4 visa, the visa typically extended to the family members of H-1B visa holders.

For years, H-4 visa holders were not eligible to work. That changed in 2015, when eligible spouses of H-4 visa holders were granted Employment Authorization Documents [EADs] (a policy that the Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to end). But EADs were offered only to spouses, and not extended to the children of H1-B visa holders, and those children age out of the H-4 status when they turn 21, which leaves thousands of American-raised and -educated young people without legal status or work authorization. In a similar limbo as Dreamers, very little attention has been focused on H-4 holders and their situation. Ananya holds an H-4, but has no work authorization, and is at risk of aging out of her status in less than three years. She spoke to me via Skype from her dorm room at her University. We ended our conversation so she could make it to her next class, Economics.

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Thanks !

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