RICHMOND, Texas – Living in limbo is a continued in-depth series by KPRC 2 that delves into the challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of Indian women in the United States who stand to lose work authorization if President Donald Trump’s administration changes one rule. This series was made possible by a fellowship grant from the South Asian Journalists Association’s SAJA Reporting Fellowship Program. Read the full series here.
Gayatri, 37, met her husband, 34-year-old Aditya Swaminarayan in college when they were both studying to be computer science engineers.
When Gayatri graduated two years before Aditya, she started working — first at a call center for IBM and later as SAP support at KPIT Technologies in 2008.
“She was very passionate about her job,” Aditya said. “She loved her job. Even now she talks about it very passionately. She really enjoyed what she did.”
Gayatri worked there for about three years. Meanwhile, once Aditya graduated, he decided to get a Masters degree and got accepted into the Masters in Management of Information Systems program at Texas A&M University in 2009. Speeding through grad school, Aditya had a diploma 18 months later.
Together for six years by then, the couple had a big decision to make about their future together.
For better or for worse
“Before our marriage, we had this big discussion,” Aditya said. “She did not want to quit her job because when she would come to the U.S., she knew she would have to come on H-4, and especially in those times, it was really difficult to find a job.”
However, Gayatri and Aditya found themselves with only one option.
“The thing is that that time, he took a loan for his education,” Gayatri explained. “So that’s why there was no option for him to come back at that point. After dating for six years, our motive was to get married and stay together.”
January 2011 was a big month for the couple. They got married, Aditya started a new job just 10 days later and Gayatri moved across the world to be with the love of her life.
For four years, Gayatri didn’t have the option of working on the H-4 visa since work authorization was not available until 2015. She tried to get a job with an employer willing to sponsor her H-1B visa and even got hired at a company but she says the market dipped very soon after and she was among a group of immigrant and American workers who were laid off.
Gayatri struggled with the idea of not working.
“It was difficult at times,” she said. “It affects your confidence sometimes. I did (feel sometimes), ‘what am I doing here? It would have been better if I’d stayed in India.’”
Coming to terms with family and legacy
It was especially hard for her to explain her situation to her family, she said.
“In my family, no woman is a homemaker. I’m the first one in the last four generations who is not working. Even my mother-in-law had her own business after having six kids. So that’s another level of struggle where you have to answer to your family that ‘yeah, I’m not working,’” she said.
She could hear the pointed questions from relatives back home and it chipped away at her confidence.
Gayatri felt as though she’d lost her identity and both Aditya and Gayatri admit it put a strain on their relationship.
“I do regret coming here sometimes. Obviously you have those days when I absolutely do regret it and I wish that I had never left India because along with her career, my wife has lost a part of her identity, which is tough,” Aditya said with a tremor of emotion in his voice.
By the time Gayatri was authorized to work in 2015, the couple had already had their first child, a baby girl they named Madhu. But, Gayatri didn’t go back to work because Madhu had a medical condition that required a lot of care and attention. In recent years, Madhu’s condition has become more stable and she has started school. The couple is now expecting their second child.
Aditya faces the lonely stress of being the family’s sole breadwinner.
“If I lose my job, it’s game over for us. We have a house here that we’ve been living in for almost four years. We have a lot of sentiment attached to it. We have friends here,” he said. “I’d have to start fresh back in my home country, which will feel just as unknown as the U.S. did when I first came here, 10 years ago.”
When life gives you lemons
To keep her sanity, Gayatri turned to her creative side. She always loved painting and craft, but without the ability to work, it became a lifeline.
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“When I lost my job, for a few months I tried to find other work but nothing happened because the market was really down. Then we conceived Madhu, so that is when I actually started (with painting and craft) because that’s when I got time. After Madhu was born, I never stopped. It’s been six years I’ve been painting and doing craft and things like that.”
She started an Instagram page called “The Homemaker,” to showcase her art and inspire others.
“Through my art, I am trying to give this message that it’s fine to be doing the home thing, taking care of your family and all,” she said.
But even after being out of the workforce for eight years, as she’s coped with motherhood and the lack of work, Gayatri hasn’t ruled out going back to work after her second child is born and is a little older.
“I never really imagined myself as a homemaker. I am a very workaholic person,” she said. “I really like to work in a team.”
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“I want her to be happy,” Aditya said. “As a husband, I desperately want her to work. I want her to have a feeling that she has her own identity. I want her to feel safe, secure.”
They hope the EAD will not be revoked so Gayatri will still have options once their second child arrives, later this year.
“When I heard about that news, I thought, ‘they just introduced it. Why would you take it away?’” Aditya said.”My wife is actually not using her EAD till date... But at some point she will want to and so it’s a scary thought.”