H-1B: The voices behind the visa

The H-1B visa is such a heated topic, its impact on individual high-tech workers often gets lost in the debate. Here, five people tell their H-1B stories in their own words.

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Brijesh Nair

'I have only good memories.'

I came to the United States on an F-1 visa in 2001 to pursue my master's in civil and environmental engineering at Arizona State University. I completed my M.S. in 2002 and my Ph.D. in 2007.

I worked as a design engineer on an H-1B visa from October 2006 until May 2010. My work was primarily to design water and wastewater treatment plants. I believe it was a specialized job. There are few Americans with a Ph.D. in environmental engineering. I was working for a company in Arizona, and at the time, in that region, they were forced to take people like me with an H-1B visa.

The work-related part of my H-1B experience was always positive. Dealing with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services was always a nightmare, with so many complicated rules and regulations. Personally, though, I never had any serious issue with the USCIS, and my work experience was always good.

While I was in the United States, my wife was able to complete her master's in biomedical informatics, also at ASU. We came back to India at the end of May.

The reason? Everyone does a job to earn a good living, but also to contribute whatever they have learned to the good of the society. My wife and I thought we could attain both those goals by coming back to India.

The wastewater industry in India lags behind U.S. by at least 10 to 20 years. The majority of the Indian population does not have access to clean drinking water, and existing water treatment plants use very old technologies. I felt I could contribute more to society here working in the area of water treatment than staying in the U.S.

Plus, the world has changed dramatically in the last two decades. Now from my office in India I can easily collaborate with a professor or a company in the U.S. A few years back such collaboration was almost impossible. When you can do your work from anywhere in the world, why live far from your motherland?

Overall, my H-1B experience was positive. I was never on the receiving end of negative comments -- never. I was in the United States for more than 10 years -- six years as a student and another five as an H-1B visa [holder]. My co-workers and management respected me so much that I felt they were part of my own family.

Being able to work with the best [engineers] in the world, I learned a lot. My work experience in the United States has really helped me to kick-start my career here in India. Even though I have left the U.S. for good, it will always have a special place in my heart. I have only good memories.

[Related: Read more about the past, present and future of H-1B, or view maps and data showing the geographic concentration of 2009 H-1B visa applications for tech jobs as a heat map, by city or as a searchable, sortable database.]

Next: H-1B visa data: Visual and interactive tools

Tracy Mayor is a Computerworld contributing editor.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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