Tech visa film vents frustrations of high-skilled immigrants

Ali Fazal plays Indian immigrant Vivek Pandit in a still from "For Here or To Go?"
Ali Fazal plays Indian immigrant Vivek Pandit in a still from “For Here or To Go?”

“You mean there is a line to get in the line?!” exclaims the American manager to Indian tech worker Vivek Pandit, the main character of the new film For Here or To Go?.

Vivek, played by Bollywood heartthrob Ali Fazal, is trying to convince his befuddled boss to sponsor his green card. The boss sends Vivek to HR, who sends him to legal, in the kind of frustrating loop that will be all too familiar for those with experience trying to navigate our broken immigration system.

“Immigrants view their relationship with the U.S., through the lens of their visa status,” says Rucha Humnadbadkar, director of the film — which screens at the Northwest Film Forum on Sunday.

An Indian-American with firsthand experience in the visa process, she says it’s hard for someone not in those shoes to comprehend the frustration of an overly complicated system.

But For Here or To Go? does an excellent job of taking this complicated subject matter and simplifying it with good storytelling. It doesn’t throw much legal jargon around. Instead it tells the human story of four high-skilled workers at various stages on the path to the elusive green card (and still has time for a love story as well).

Each person at each stage faces almost insurmountable problems and the movie does a wonderful job of showing the funny side of their predicaments. It’s enough to make you laugh and cry all at the same time!

When I met with Rishi Bhilawadikar, the writer and producer of the film, last fall in San Francisco, I learned that the idea for the film started around 2009 economic downturn — which was adversely affecting businesses, immigrants and especially immigrant entrepreneurs.

He said that on the face of it, it may seem like a high-skilled immigrant worker these days has a hefty salary, a nice home and nice car. But what is unseen is the crushing of potential, the loss of talent and the stymied careers.

And he’s right. In the long term, the problem doesn’t just affect only immigrants, it affects employers, businesses and ultimately the U.S. economy.

“There is just so much potential that is lost,” Bhilawadikar said.

When I first watched For Here or To Go? at the Seattle South Asian Film Festival last year, I fell in love with it immediately because it speaks my language. As an immigration lawyer, I see the adverse effects of the law on my clients.

That’s why I wrote a book last year “The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth & Economic Prosperity in America” advocating for change.

The author, at right, with "For Here or To Go?" writer and producer Rishi Bhilawadikar.
The author, at right, with “For Here or To Go?” writer and producer Rishi Bhilawadikar.

The law needs to change. Immigrants aside, U.S. employers suffer from not being able to hire talent. Even if they find the talent, there are not enough visas available to meet demand. If one is lucky to get a work visa, the process to get a green card is costly and ridiculously long. There are entrepreneurs stuck as Dilberts of corporate America, who could be the next Facebook founder.

And because of the restrictive laws and lack of a startup visa, many of them are breaking out of their golden cuffs and returning to their home countries to spread their entrepreneurial wings to create companies like Snapdeal, which is now giving Amazon a run for its money.

There’s a dire need for reform of across the whole immigration system. But when it comes to high-skilled immigration specifically we need a startup visa, the green card wait times need to be eliminated and the application process has to be more effective.

In 2013, a bill for comprehensive immigration reform introduced Merit Based visas, similar to what other countries like Canada have in place. It could be a good alternative to the frustrating process we have now —but the bill stalled out amid bipartisan bickering.

For Here or To Go? is a story with the power to help law and policy makers, as well as the public (aka the electorate) understand why and how the law needs to change.

Can a movie really change law? I believe it can.

“For Here Or To Go” screens this Sunday, Feb 21st at 12p.m. at the Northwest Film Forum as part of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival