Film on troubles facing Silicon Valley immigrants hits cinemas

SAN FRANCISCO • A feature film about the difficulties facing an Indian temporary work-visa holder waiting for permanent residency was recently screened in 25 cinemas in the United States, with backing from Silicon Valley investors, fuelling an already heated immigration debate.

The film, For Here Or To Go?, was written and produced by San Francisco-based Rishi Bhilawadikar, 33, one of the estimated one million-plus H-1B visa holders in the country. The title is a play on the ubiquitous question at fast-food outlets that often flummoxes new arrivals.

The movie was shown last Friday, on the eve of the annual lottery for the three-year visas, which are awarded to foreign workers in speciality jobs ranging from software engineers to fashion models.

President Donald Trump is trying to tighten the immigration system, including monitoring H-1B visas.

Applications flooded in yesterday on the opening day for the 65,000 annual quota of H-1B visas.

Employers can sponsor H-1B holders to apply for a Green Card that gives the right to permanent residence. But the approval process is backlogged and caps on countries of birth mean that applicants from nations like India and China may have to wait a decade or more.

"A person with my level of skills from Sri Lanka would get a Green Card in six months, whereas I could be waiting 15 years," said Mr Bhilawadikar, who works as a user experience designer.

Funded by venture capitalists , the movie tells the story of Mr Vivek Pandit, a Silicon Valley-based software professional, and his friends, who struggle to navigate the US immigration system.

As a "temp worker", Mr Pandit is unable to make long-term decisions like founding a company, buying a home or starting a family.

"It's the untold story of hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants who drive a nice-enough car but avoid buying expensive furniture for fear of having to leave it all behind," said Mr Bhilawadikar.

"I set about making this film to humanise my story and the story of a million others like me."

There could be up to two million Indian workers in the Green Card backlog, said Mr David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at think-tank Cato Institute.

Advocates of immigration often cite H-1B success stories like Mr Sundar Pichai of Google and Mr Satya Nadella of Microsoft.

But critics say the firms that use these workers the most - information technology services companies with the bulk of their operations in India - are hurting American workers by undercutting salaries and taking away jobs. 

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Film on troubles facing Silicon Valley immigrants hits cinemas'. Print Edition | Subscribe