A Temporary Work Visa, A Temporary Home

Many South Asians have built new homes in the U.S., but an erratic immigration system makes it impossible to ever feel settled.

Mugdha Mahalanabish

June 5, 2019

A Temporary Work Visa, A Temporary Home

“The smell of the rain. That’s what I’d miss the most,” Nabil Shahidi said, sharing his dearest memory of Dhaka with me. “It’s raining right now, and I just opened the window.” Shahidi was in Dhaka; I was recording his interview from my room in New York. It has been less than a year since he left the United States. What our American chapters have in common is an acute feeling of uncertainty in a country that has become home.

Shahidi, an architect by profession, returned to Bangladesh after the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rejected his latest petition for a temporary work visa. His fiancée, also a Bangladeshi citizen, remained in New York to continue her job at the United Nations. Marriage was one possibility. Shahidi would have qualified for a diplomatic visa as spouse to a UN employee, and his life in New York would have continued. However, he didn’t want to take that route. “I don’t want to base my marriage on needing to stay there,” Shahidi said. “It wasn’t easy. We did talk about her moving back here. But she’s at a very good job she likes.” They’re now in a long distance, cross-border relationship.

Foreign nationals, drawn by the promise of progressive work environments and higher salaries, move to the U.S. But, like Shahidi, many live in uncertainty, tethered to temporary work visas like the H-1B.