Constructing Dependence: Visa Regimes and Gendered Migration in Families of Indian Professional Workers
thesisposted on 22.02.2013, 00:00 authored by Pallavi Banerjee
In my dissertation, I examine how visa policies of United States affect Indian transnational “high-skilled” migrants and their families in the United States. I specifically focus on two family forms: a) male-led migrant families or families of Indian high-tech workers; b) female-led migrant families or families of Indian nurses. The “high-skilled” workers migrate for employment on skilled workers visas (H1-B) and their spouses migrate on dependent visas (H-4). The dependent or the H-4 visa, restricts the spouses of skilled workers to find legal employment in the United States or possess any kind of U.S government issued identification in the United States as long as they hold dependent visas. Using extensive qualitative methods - in-depth interviews with 85 family members and 15 immigration experts, observations in the migrant Indian communities and archival data, I argue that the visa regimes governs more than just mobility of the transnational subject. Visa policies reconfigure identities and notions of the self for visa holders and impose constraints on relationships, family, belonging and migration. The visas shape family structures and familial relationship for high-tech workers by reinforcing a patriarchal family form with the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the homemaker. This benefits the private sector labor market at the cost of the well-being of migrant families. Furthermore, when women are the breadwinners, my analysis shows the power of gender as a structure as men try and reclaim power by overt expressions of masculinity and women concede to the patriarchal arrangement by performing subordinate femininities. These findings show how the apparently gender-neutral visa policies of United States take on heavily gendered meanings when translated into everyday interactions in families bound by such policies. By identifying the multi-layered gendered and racialized hidden underpinnings of visa laws, I empirically show that visa structures of the state create a web of dependence for migrant subjects.