AAPI Heritage Month #17

May 17, 2023

What is one historical event that impacted your understanding of your racial identity?

The H-1B visa. Man, does this thing have a hold on my people. For a U.S.-born citizen, it is amazing how much a temporary visa status could have such an impact on my racial identity.

Let’s take a little walk through history to know more about the H1-B —

In 1952, the U.S. government updated the Immigration and Nationality Act to create many new elements, including the H-1 visa for “an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning who is of distinguished merit and ability and who is coming temporarily to the United States to perform temporary services of an exceptional nature requiring such merit and ability.”

You see those meritocratic capitalist terms I hate so much: distinguished, merit, ability, perform, temporary, exceptional?

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 also ended the xenophobia and racist racial restrictions on immigrations upheld by the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 (which was an extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). Basically, the United States was like, “Ok, you can come over here but only because we love capitalism and want to profit off your labor, but you can’t stay too long because we still hate you okthxbye.”

For the last decade or so, Indian citizens held the vast majority of H1-B visas in the United States: 74% in 2019. However, the migration of highly educated people from India didn’t really pop off until after 1990 — when the B specific status was created. H-1B is specifically for highly specialized fields like engineering, math, technology, and medical sciences.

Are the stereotypes about Indian doctors and tech bros starting to sift to the top now?

In the 1990s through 2000s we have the tech booms and Silicon Valley and market crashes and more tech booms and mega conglomo globalizing companies and here we are with a colossal jump in Indian immigration during my lifespan:

Chart acquired from the Migration Policy Institute: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/indian-immigrants-united-states

Thank you to the H-1B visa program, my family’s little space in the United States consisting of my parents, my brother and me has extended to include three cousins, their spouse, and children. My family’s mark on the United States has become a microcosm of this colossal jump in Indian migration to the United States. More of my blood relatives have been born in this country, little cousin babies. My understanding of self, family, identity, and responsibilities have shifted.

However–and this is a big complex however–the H-1B visa system is a disgusting modern day interpretation of racist immigration policies akin to the Chinese Exclusion Act and Asian Barred Zone Act. The H-1B visa system maintains that the United States does not want “undesirable” Brown people here. It wants to fuel the model minority machine to uphold white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and corporate corruption.

I feel like an aberration to this violent racist machine. An Indian born in the United States just a few years before the H-1B visa system was put in place to shape limited identities for us here. An historical event that sneaks under the radar of your everyday American who doesn’t know their H’s from their B’s.

My racial identity is one of chaos outside of design.

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