“I am interested in the human face of policy,” says UMBC’s Amy Bhatt. “I want to share the personal narratives of immigrants few people hear about—highly skilled workers—and help us understand their experience as they face questions of citizenship, belonging, and community.”
Bhatt, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies, and affiliate associate professor in the language, literacy, and culture, and Asian studies programs, has made headlines nationwide by providing research-based expertise on contemporary U.S. immigration policy. She’s bringing the conversation to UMBC through a Humanities Forum talk on her new book, High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration, on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, 4 – 5:30 p.m., in the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery.
“Now more than ever, Professor Bhatt’s research is crucial in helping all of us understand the everyday impact of high-skilled immigration,” shares Jessica Berman, professor of English and director of the Dresher Center for the Humanities, which organizes the Humanities Forum. “Thriving academic research communities are enriched by the knowledge and expertise highly-skilled international faculty, staff, and students bring and share.”
H-1B and H-4 visa programs allow skilled workers from South Asian countries to travel with their families to the U.S. to fill needed temporary positions in corporations, hospitals, and universities. Bhatt explains, “U.S. consumers depend on the global flow of goods and services in the tech, healthcare, and higher education sectors.” She notes, “In a global high-tech economy it is important to acknowledge the value that immigrants bring to our lives and how they are being threatened by immigration policy.”
Bhatt’s work focuses on gender as an important and understudied factor at the intersection of immigration law and global economy. She notes that 85 percent of H-1B visa holders are men. Their spouses can join them in the U.S. under the H-4 visa program, but, even if those spouses are themselves highly skilled, they are unable to apply their expertise in the paid workforce. Instead, they often become “high-tech housewives” due to the constraints of immigration law, rather than choice.
“People tend to think about H-1B visa issues as problems that only affect men,” failing to consider the often highly skilled spouses who come with them to the U.S.,” says Bhatt.
“Women’s abilities to migrate—flexibility in foregoing their own careers at times, and work to manage family demands, cultural transmission, connection to home country, and building local relationships—allow their spouses to take highly skilled jobs in the United States,” explains Bhatt. Her research explores how the current visa system not only limits the employment of highly skilled women, but also impacts their identities and day-to-day experiences in other significant ways.
In addition to her recent book, Amy Bhatt has recently published three widely read articles on U.S. and international policy issues and gender through The Conversation, including “Why Trump’s plan to forbid spouses of H-1B visa holders to work is a bad idea.” In that article, Bhatt writes, “H-4 women face a triple burden if they are able to start working again, particularly in technology: race, gender and long gaps in their resumes.”
Whether sharing her work through academic publications or news media like the Seattle Times, Bhatt’s overall message is the same.
“It is an urgent call for all of to pay attention,” she says, “to changes in immigration trends, globalization, how businesses are thinking about labour pools, and how we think of gender and women in the family in these economic and political processes.”
Banner image: Amy Bhatt. Photo courtesy of Amy Bhatt.