Our dysfunctional immigration system strands an American family in India

Saurav Mazumdar and his wife, Ishita Menon, and their son Sameer, 6, and daughter Sitara, 11, are pictured in Washington before they got stranded in India. Family photo via The Washington Post.

They’ve been stranded in India for six weeks now.

In a stubborn display of optimism that our country’s dysfunctional immigration system will somehow work, Saurav Mazumdar refuses to buy any new clothes.

“I packed for two weeks. Two shirts, two pants,” said Mazumdar, 42, whose two-week vacation to visit relatives and renew his H1B visa in India has turned into a nightmare.

Why should he buy more clothes? He has plenty of clothes back home in Washington, D.C., where he has lived for almost two decades.

Mazumdar, his wife and their two American-born children can’t get back to their home, to their jobs, friends or classrooms. They are stuck in a black hole of paperwork and nonanswers from our erratic, broken legal immigration system. You know, the one everyone hating on undocumented immigrants thinks is easy.

“I guess we were naive enough to think this couldn’t happen to us,” said Mazumdar’s wife, Ishita Menon, 41, a Georgetown University PhD who serves on the special events committee at her son’s elementary school.

While they wait, their kids, Sameer, 6, and Sitara, 11, try to keep up with schoolwork.

“It’s really hard to explain to a 6-year-old why he can’t go back home,” Mazumdar said.

He goes on FaceTime with his best friend, Owen, once a week. His teacher has sent him pictures from the class, telling him how much they miss him.

Sitara, meanwhile, is missing practices with the prestigious youth orchestra she earned a seat in after nailing her audition right before the summer.

Mazumdar and Menon came to the United States 19 years ago to get their master’s degrees.

“I’ve been in a lot of countries, but I fell in love with Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The fact that museums are free. And it’s the people who make the difference, the people in the U.S. are amazing. People in the U.S., in general, are well-meaning.”

And everything happening in his field – data engineering and artificial intelligence – was happening in the United States. And he got job offers at the highest levels, a coveted brain in this fast-developing field.

He is exactly the kind of immigrant President Trump says he wants. Skilled, valued, smart.

Menon loved Washington, too. The couple bought a condo near Washington National Cathedral and had their babies at Georgetown University Hospital.

And they were faithful in keeping all their paperwork up-to-date: Mazumdar’s H1B visa, designed for skilled workers, and Menon’s H4 visa, the spousal companion to an H1B. He has to return to India every three years to have his passport restamped and the visa renewed. Every three years, the kids got to see their grandparents and their extended family, then returned to D.C.

Knowing they wanted to spend the rest of their lives in the United States, the couple applied for green cards eight years ago. That should be fine, right? Any day, they should be able to raise their right hands and become U.S. citizens.

Not so fast.

Because there’s a major backlog of highly educated, highly skilled people from India seeking green cards, their wait could be anywhere from 75 to 115 years.

Yes, years. Preposterous, right?

This summer, the Democratic-controlled House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which would help ease that backlog from India in particular. The Republican-controlled Senate is futzing with its own version.

Meanwhile, Mazumdar and Menon are stuck in limbo.

Right after he got to India in July, Mazumdar dropped off his passport and paperwork at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, as he had done many times before.

The family enjoyed their time and everything seemed on track when he received an email, eight days later, saying that his passport was ready. Perfect.

But when he went to pick it up, there was no stamp. Instead, he got a letter saying he needed to come in for an interview. So he went the next day, had a straightforward interview, got fingerprinted, and got a document telling him everything is being held up.

The family canceled their August 13 plane tickets back to D.C. and hired an immigration lawyer. They prowl the online immigration forums for ideas, where hundreds of other H1B families are experiencing the same nightmare.

The State Department keeps returning Mazumdar’s emails with a warning that “before making inquiries about status of administrative processing, applicants should wait at least 180 days from the date of interview or submission of supplemental documents, whichever is later.”

That’s six months of school missed. Six months of work missed. Six months in the same two shirts and same two pairs of pants.

And even after those six months, there’s no guarantee that this hard-working family will be able to come back home to America.



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