December 9, 2023

Business Visa

The Business Visa Is Mightier Than Sword

The challenges of navigating visas, US residency as a student at Ohio State

Varsha Prabu poses for a photo in 2010 with a pumpkin during October. Credit: Courtesy of Varsha Prabu | For the Lantern

I’ve lived in Columbus since I was 8 years old, but I have to switch to an international student visa to finish my degree at Ohio State because of where my father was born.

Although ethnically Indian, I spent the first few years of my life in Toronto. One day, I was tossed into my family’s Honda Accord and toted across the border from Ontario to Ohio because of a chance job offer. My family was ready to make Ohio home. But I was forced to learn very quickly that Ohio did not necessarily want me.

I am a victim of the green card backlog and trapped in immigration limbo. Over 200,000 children were brought to the U.S. on dependent visas. I am haunted by the suggestion to “just apply for citizenship.” My family has done everything by the book, but even after 13 years of living here, we have yet to receive our green cards.

If you were born in India, or are a dependent of someone born in India, just “applying to citizenship” is not something that you can do. A 30-year-old law prevents applicants from a singular country from receiving more than 7 percent of available employment-based and family-sponsored green cards each year. If you’re Indian and join this line now, you could face a wait time of 89-plus years.

When I turn 21, I will be kicked off of my father’s visa, join the back of this line and will most likely die before it’s my turn to receive permanent residency.

Not only do children of long-term visa holders have no clear pathway to citizenship; we lack the support we need from the education systems that surround us.

In an attempt to demonstrate the concept of America being a “melting pot”, my fourth-grade teacher played a game with us. First, she asked us all to sit on the carpet. Then, she asked everyone whose parents were not immigrants to get up and sit back at their desks. This left seven or eight of us on that carpet.

Then, she asked everyone left on the carpet who was born in the U.S. to get up and sit back at their desks. Afterward, there was just me sitting on the floor as everyone else got to sit back at their desks and jeer at me, their pointed index fingers feeling like spears slicing me into little pieces.

At 20 years old, I understand that my teacher probably thought that she was showing us how diverse the U.S. was, but to me, it symbolizes the beginning of me being alienated by my home for the rest of my life.

At 17, I was awed by my classmates’ lengthy lists and detailed spreadsheets of colleges and universities. At most, I opened up a document for my college essay and submitted it to two schools in my state. I had to cough up the international applicant fee to both despite living in the same state for nine years straight. Thankfully, I received admission to both colleges, but my joy surrounding admissions was short-lived.

My ineligibility to fill out the FAFSA made only one college financially feasible, and I had to commute back and forth from my parents home 30 minutes away. As others exuberantly chattered about their first tastes of independence and dorming, I had to put both my family’s finances and legal status first.

Ohio State did not have the resources to adequately support me. Despite the large number of people that attend this university under the same legal status as me, Ohio State currently only specializes in resources for three groups of people: permanent residents, international students and DACA recipients. I’ve managed to do a lot of extraordinary things during my time at Ohio State: intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio; publish independent research; and get recognized as a “hero of Columbus” via Columbus Is My Neighborhood, an art project highlighting local leaders.

But I’ve had to navigate various barriers and shoulder the burden of my legal status alone. Organizations and programs at Ohio State that claimed to accept students “of all genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and immigration status” have turned me away.

At the time of writing this, I have waited almost two weeks for Ohio State’s immigration services to produce a document that will allow me to travel up to the Canadian border and successfully initiate my switch to an international student visa. It was only supposed to take two to five business days. I’m tired of the U.S. trying to forget my existence.

Although I consider myself to be extremely successful despite my circumstances, this experience has been soul-crushing. Thankfully I’ve found support and comfort through The Hidden Dream, an organization for immigrants that provides support, including scholarships, mentorship and workshops.

Bio: Varsha is a third-year in psychology. She works on the community team for The Hidden Dream, presenting workshops to aid immigrants with visas.