Sharmala Drapa, Associate Professor in Sociology and the Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Austin

I’m Sharmala Drapa and I’m an assistant professor in sociology here at the university of Texas at Austin in sociology and Asian American studies.
This is I just finished four years of being in Austin. I graduated from Madison, Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin at Madison where I spent a LARGE amount of time being at graduate school. It was a bit difficult to leave the town.

Um I came to the united states in 1989 as a graduate student in Environmental studies and got my master’s in that and switched to sociology for a Ph.D. Completed my degree in 2000 and got this job and moved here to Austin Texas. Um Presently I am on an HIB. Most of my student life I was on FI visa, which is my student status and the minute I got this job here at UT uh Univ. Texas, they changed it to an HIB visa, which is a temporary worker visa. Meaning this visa is valid for three years and then earlier this year I applied for an extension for


Ok, the HIB as a visa category was started in 1919. [breath] Basically what the u.s. gov’t feels right around this time prior to this law being passed is that they’re not getting enough skilled workers. And so to bring in skilled workers they have this visa category called HIB which is going to bring in Skilled workers into the U.S. to help, you know, to help at some level build the economy because you need more and more skilled workers. So [something going on with bad sound here] initially the cap was at bringing in 65,000 workers annually and this changes in 1998, but we’ll talk about that later.
Basically what the HIB is is that you have um certain technical skills or certain education qualifications that will qualify you for getting a high tech job or in a company at a higher level based on your education qualifications [breath] so mo

However the conversion from an hib into permanent residency depends on the company they’re working for, [Ginger- On the what?] On the Company that they working for, so the company then has to sponsor their papers, this is where the abuse can start happening,
Ginger- ok, so

What the HIB does is Say Ginger you’re my employer and you sponsor my HIB. That is I’m a student in the U.S., you want me to be your employee, and so you will actually file papers for me to be an HIB temporary worker in your company. Now If I want to leave your company because another company is going to pay me better wages, I have more opportunity for growth at another company, I am unable to switch unless the other company sponsors my HIB. So basically what the HIB does is it ties these individuals these High skilled workers very effectively to the single company that they working for.
And also there’s the promise of the GreenCard coming down the road. Which might be 3 years down the road, which might be 6 years down the road. So a lot of individuals are very reluctant to Leave the company theyre working for because there’s this carrot hanging there that is the greencard. So they might be willing to take lower wages, they might be willing to work longer hours, they might be actually much more exploitable than our citizen workers. And This is where you start seeing the abuse of the HIB system happening.

Now say I own a company that basically runs as a body shop, [Ginger] I guess a consulting company is what we could call it, rather than, it sort of acts like a tempr temp agency, but it’s slightly different. Now as a consulting company I might have a whole bunch of workers who are on HIBs, Very skilled individuals, very well trained individuals. So what I would do is I would look for different companies that I would consult for that would give me contracts for which I would do my company would do work for them. So what I would then do is I would send my workforce to go do the job, for maybe 2 months maybe 3 months, finish that project and bring my workers back.
For that I would get a lump sum of money that is contracted to me from that company that I’ve just worked for [breath] but the kinds of pay that I give to the workers who’ve actually Done the Dog work of running that contract, I would pay them pitiful amounts of money. The remuneration is very very low. [breath] the other thing that’s been happening with body shops is that is one way by which workers get horribly exploited. Now the other way by which workers can get horribly exploited is that if there’s no contract work for my company to do, I Bench the workers, meaning they don’t really come for work and they don’t get any pay. [Ginger] They’re in this country and they’re not receiving pay.

For one a lot of middle class Indians value education very highly throughout the 70s and 80s there’s been this emphasis on Technical training bc that was where you know to become a professional so theres huge amounts of men and women who entered engineering schools Now the second thing [ginger-in India] In India, yeah, um if you go into programs like architecture for example, you would easily see maybe 50% women, 50% men. I mean very very strong numbers of women in engineering fields at least when I was growing up in the 80s [sniff] and also there’s been a proliferation of software programming institutions. Two year institutions, 3 year colleges That basically teach young adults software programming.

Actually try figure out with this research was Why are these individuals going back to India? If they’re American citizens, if everything is going well for them here If they have these great homes, they have these great pay checks, and why this desire to go back to India?

One of the things I wanted to find out was whether 9/11 had an effect. Mainly because we started seeing a large amount of racism and backlash against people who looked arab and there was quite a bit of violence against South Asian Americans. So I wanted to see whether that was affecting people. And the other thing I wanted to see was whether the dot com crash also affected why these individuals were going back. It didn’t Seem that was the case For those individuals who are able to become American citizens. [breath] Now there was another group of Indians who came as perhaps to work in the U.S. they came directly on HIBs from India because companies here sponsor them. Many of these individuals were not able to convert their HIB status into permanent residency, and so when they lost their jobs, they had to leave the u.s. So they made all these incredible sacrifices coming to the U.S. had these amazing hopes, dreams, and desires of making it here, but none of that transpired. Ldjf


Let me talk a big about 9/11. Uh, mainly what happened is with 9/11 umm happening a lot of Indians were mistaken to be arabs, or thought to be muslims and therefore a national threat. Not by the state dept. not by the u.s. gov’t, but by various Americans on the street. Soyouwould see a lot of racial slurs being thrown at south asian Americans, hate crimes, even individuals who were killed umm in gas stations and places in places like that. So a lot of the individuals I interviewed actually spoke about the fear that they felt in going back and forth to work and coming back home, umm going grocery shopping. Uh so they felt quite a bit of fear, but it doesn’t seem to have effected those HIBs coming into the U.S. necessarily.


Now most of the HIB individuals are just like me who are on HIBs afhkjsdhf;alksdjfldjf j ginger… cat….interviews you’ve attempted to make with HIB workers in U.S.

Most of the hib individuals that I’ve interviewed here in the U.S. or attempted to interview are people who work for large companies like Sysco Dell Intel, Etc. they don’t tlak much about these abuses either because these abuses are not happening or because these individuals are reluctant to talk. To go in that direction

And these Individuals who work for Sysco, Dell, Intel, Etc.
What happens is when a body shop owner uh brings HIBs from India they tend to have 3,4,5 guys in one single apt. It’s not as if, and many of these are guys, it’s not as if these guys have amazing social lives, because all they do is work for these different, get shipped around to different parts of the uh of the U.S. to work for these companies [meow] and come back home… It’s been very difficult to actually interview individuals who work for body shops, people who might be on HIBs and there’s a reason for that. The reason being that issues of access are really really it’s issues of access. Many of these individuals who work for body shops are guys, and they tend to be men that are hired from India. And many of these guys uh live in small little apts, perhaps that are designed for one individual, but you might have 4 or 5 guys living in these apts That the company has rented for them And it’s not as if these guys have great social lives. All they do is go to the various companies that they’re contracted out to in various parts of the u.s., finish the projects, and come back to these apts. So it’s very difficult to meet these individuals to actually start doing your interviews. So it’s been very hard to actually interview these individuals.

Uh Individuals have not been able to even access them. But there’s other individuals who have who I have interviewed and have not talked about being abused through an HIB system. [ breath] they might not talk about abuse either because abuse is not happening or because they might worry about the repercussions that they might face At the work place if they do start complaining about HI about their HIB status and how they’re being abused.

Ginger- we’ve got another thought here
Well what I wanted to emphasize is that the HIB visa process is completely voluntary. No one is holding a gun to these peoples’ heads saying apply for these jobs. They’re completely voluntary. But Just because they’re voluntary doesn’t mean it Cannot be abusive. Its kfkjl

Ginger- History, a new thing? Or could you talk about….
Well, religion starts taking on a very different kind of significance for Indians living in the U.S. Uh for example you might never go as often to temples or you might not attend religious chanting and singing sessions which we call Badyans uh Badyan sessions where you sing umm we might not attend those in India, but once we immigrate into the U.S., temples and these sorts of religious occasions start taking on a new significance. It doesn’t mean that these people are Finding G-d bc they’ve arrived into the U>S on the contrary, they’re finding each other, so it is about life on this world that is really more important to them than an afterlife

Ginger—satellite tv from india…
Getting you know the People have access to satellite television from India there’s also all kinds of DVDs that are coming over from India and sometimes certain films might have simultaneous releases in India and certain theaters in the U.S. [breath]. For example, Austin has a theater which shows Indian films um once a week, so these are other places popular culture is such a space that ties Indian immigrants together. So if you go to