August, 2011- My husband was offered a long term project in Los Angeles and he shared the news with me. I was ecstatic and both of us looked at it as a brilliant opportunity to travel and experience a new place, a new country. Having known each other for 5 years through B-school and beyond, I knew he understood my career aspirations as I did his. I happily quit my job at a leading financial firm, taking it as more of a long and much required break from work. Both of us were sure that we would return back to India sooner than later if I do not get a good career opportunity myself.
So we embarked on this journey together, and I have to be honest- I enjoyed it immensely, missing work at times but completely loving doing things which I never had the time to do before. However, I also knew I had to work hard to get a job. It took me at-least 4-5 months to get a grasp on the exact visa cycle, the process, what kind of firms should I be applying to, etc. I was told time and again by friends and well wishers that my MBA degree and my achievements at my previous work place is all secondary to my visa status here. God knows that if I had to embark on another such journey, I would definitely choose Australia or U.K. for their simpler visa rules! So I religiously applied to countless firms, spoke to many consultants, friends of friends but all went in vain as even as I was trying to understand the process and find the right people- the H1B cap for the year was full by June 2012. That was the first time since I had landed in U.S. that I realized that I have been forced to be out of work for at least 15 more months if I decide to stay in this country! So my first learning was- Pull up your socks if you have to beat the crazy visa cycle!
My next option was moving back to India, but both me and my husband decided to put that one on the back burner! So the eternal optimist that I am, I started applying for universities and Non-profit organizations since I now knew these organizations did not fall under H1B cap. Yes! Too much research converted me into a pro at all visa matters. But there too I got one rejection after another.
Another hindrance for me was the fact that being from a completely non-IT background, it seemed as if I was totally non-H1B material. Every consultant I spoke to wanted to “enhance” my resume, “train” me and put me in an IT job which I had no intention of pursuing. I would much rather volunteer or work pro bono. But still against my better judgment, I did waste a lot of time in useless training sessions which did not add value to me in any way. My second learning- Do not compromise if you think you have the right skill-set. The right opportunity will come to you. I would have been better off reading more books, or pursuing a hobby at that time.
After around 8 more months of travelling, networking, job hunting, in February 2012 I actually got my first offer from 2 leading MNCs in non-IT roles. The timing was just right, the profile was to my interest and I knew both the firms were into visa sponsorships. After multiple rounds I got through one of them and they sponsored my H1B application. I have just got my visa approval and would be starting work very soon. I consider myself fortunate because I did have some personal contacts who apprised me of the opportunity at their firm at the right time. At the cost of repetition, I do feel that networking with the right people is key as is diligence. I did lose some time in understanding the process and settling in a new country, but in retrospect it all worked out for the best. While everyone on an H4 have their own priorities and considerations that affect the bigger picture, I think a few things that most people would find helpful are
1) Even on an H4, there is no dearth of volunteer work you could pursue.
2) Register for pro bono work based on your skill set at sites such as taproot.com.
3) Do not fall into the trap of consultants who offer you false hopes.
4) Stay optimistic and enjoy your long vacation while you can.
Mishika Soni (Alias)