‘Dev’ is from Sri Lanka. He has dark brown hair and light brown skin with thick, perfectly level eyebrows. The eyebrows threaten to overwhelm his deep-set, emerald eyes which are never at rest and which have an intensity that is not always comfortable. He is built mid-sized and thick, a soccer-player build, and he does like his soccer. He also likes a couple games of pool on a Saturday night, which is what he was doing when I met him.
Dev taught high school math for his ‘Gap Year’ back in Sri Lanka before he moved to the US in 2012 to start college. He now has a Bachelor Degree in Computer Science and a Graduate Degree in Information / Business Systems. The first degree he completed in three years, the second he finished in one, at night school, while he worked full time during the day. No doubt about it, Dev is intelligent and he is driven; but he is not staying in the US and building a life or career here.
“This place is not worth my prime time,” he says, which is not quite how a native English speaker might phrase it but is nonetheless a perfect expression of what he means. “With everything that’s going on now? They don’t want us here. That’s clear.” That’s clear is one of his favorite phrases. “Why should I give this country the best years of my life? They don’t want me here, they don’t want people like me.” When he says “people like me” he could be talking about smart people or educated people or driven people but he is also definitely talking about people with brown skin.
While Dev was working fulltime during the day and finishing his graduate degree at night he also started a business with a high school friend from back home. They met at a rather exclusive and rigorous boarding school they both attended. The two of them now have a Sri Lankan- based company with a few dozen full-time programmers working for them. “We’re not going to get a lot larger,” Dev says, “I just don’t think we should get bigger than that. Too hard to manage. That’s clear.”
The entire business was built and now operates without Dev travelling back home. “We just skype and call and text, we’re pretty much talking all the time.” In fact he hasn’t been back to Sri Lanka since he finished his undergraduate degree. Not because he doesn’t want to go visit but because he is on a student visa. Student visas come with a three year allowance to stay and work after school is completed. If the holder leaves the US at any time during those three years – for a summer vacation, say, or maybe a sister’s wedding, or a grand parents’ funeral – the worker might not be allowed back. So Dev just didn’t take the risk of leaving. We so often have such little knowledge of what people sacrifice to start building their ‘American’ dream.
We tend to think of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant propaganda as all about Mexicans coming across the southern border or Muslim refugees being potential terrorists. Those inaccuracies are bad enough. But a lot of additional collateral damage is being done as well. Most all immigrants, regardless of where they’re from or why they wanted to come here, are getting the message that they are not welcome. It’s not just rhetoric either, even without passing legislation the Trump administration is setting policies and re-writing regulations to make it tougher to get just about any category of immigrant visa.
Each year more than a million foreign college students and highly-trained temporary workers who want to stay in the US vie for just 120,000 permanent visas. The temporary worker program is larger, granting about 750,000 visas each year. Or at least they were. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service is using regulations and bureaucracy to make it more difficult for employers to get these visas. Also, under the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ initiative, the administration is decreasing the number of years foreign workers are allowed to stay and the number of extensions for which they can file.
“I have four friends from home who were working in high tech in the Bay area, they all went back, too,” Dev told me. “No one wants to stay, now. But the people at home… they’re moving to Germany and France, and Australia. Those countries want us.”
That too is clear, crystal clear. Other countries are making a play for the immigrants we are pushing away. France has just started a new high tech visa program, expanding it’s immigration in this area, they intend to become a high-tech hotbed. Last year, when the US said it would stop processing premium H-1B visas for six months, Canada announced it would expedite them.
Donald Trump and his administration are intentionally sending away a segment of the very people who have made America great. Immigrants are just 12% of the American population yet they founded or co-founded half of all Silicon Valley start-ups. One-quarter of US global patents are awarded to technology created or co-created by immigrants. Half the people working in science or engineering with PhD’s are immigrants.
Dev has already bought his one-way ticket home. He’s spending the next two months travelling the US, visiting those places he hasn’t yet seen. Then he’s taking his intelligence, his drive, and his start-up, and going home. Brain drain, that’s what Trump’s war on immigration has brought us. We won’t see the extent of the damage to the United States until he is long gone and long after Dev and his friends have also left. So when the next Google (co-founded by Russian immigrant Sergey Brin) starts up in France or China or Sri Lanka, we’ll know why.
Emigrate means to leave one’s country to live in another. Immigrate is to come into another country to live permanently. A person perpetually seeking VISA’s is not an immigrant.
The whole “brown” comment and sentiment is a non-reality fiction of identity politics perpetuated by the one party — not the reality of living here in the US or immigration to US under Trump. Trump even encourages merit based. https://www.hoover.org/research/end-identity-politics
Thank you Mark for explaining the difference between emigrate and immigrate.
You may be interested to know that ‘visa’ – as in immigration visa – is not capitalized unless it is part of a proper noun, and the word is never put in all caps for any grammatical reason.
Moreover an apostrophe before a final s shows possession, not plurality.
More importantly I must take issue when you write that “the whole “brown” comment and sentiment is a non-reality fiction”. I was speaking to an Asian person from the Indian subcontinent and that is his lived reality, experienced while here in the US. You don’t get to decide whether his experience is real or not, and you certainly can’t accurately assess his reality based simply on your opinion and your political viewpoint with no corroborative facts. But it is an unfortunate reality that so many people in this country are now willing to ignore facts that they don’t like, or call them fake, or make up their own alternative facts.
Finally I need to say that while Trump does indeed say that he wants merit-based immigration, the ‘reality’ is that he has not been able to pass that legislation and in the meantime his administration is – as I explain in the essay – taking whatever regulatory and bureaucratic steps it can to reduce all immigration.
The point Tom is that perpetually asking for visa after visa is not immigration — that’s why visa applications after the first, second and third time are harder and harder to get. (It’s called immigration visa because it’s intended to provide a temporary status prior to and while citizenship is processed). If you want to immigrate, you need to apply for citizenship. Ask any American who tries to get more than one visa to work in other countries more than once, especially Australia.
Your alternative facts comment lacks perspective, and ignores both the facts and the political dynamic here in the US. Dev’s “opinion” about his experience is driven by politic provocateur’s false narratives made up by identity politics “professionals” here in the US — narratives made up for their personal gain and political advantage. Did you ask Dev how he got the impression “they don’t want me”? (You and I didn’t say that). Did someone specifically say that to him? Or was it the result overtime of incessant bombardment by deluded academics, the media and political operatives.
Did you ask Dev if he applied for citizenship? If what you write about him is true, we want him! Trump wants him. Question is: Does he want us? Note, he would have the same experience if did not — after receiving multiple work visas —apply for citizenship in other countries, including Australia. This is not a US immigration problem. To falsely wordplay it into a xenophobic race issue is the unfortunate product of our misleading post truth corrupt politics, not reality.
You are mistaken about Trump working to reduce immigration. It’s unfortunate some people are taken in by Fake News and identity politics. The lionshare of what he is doing bureaucracy-wise doesn’t in fact deal with immigration— it addresses illegal border crossing — a border security issue. Lack of border security undermines immigration. As for immigration itself. Trump’s focus has been on the mechanics of immigration that are not merit based paths to citizenship, eg, chain migration and lottery.
Thanks for reading…