“Alien is my second documentary. My previous film, Beyond Silence, won awards, aired on PBS and screened at festivals, universities and schools all around the world. Beyond Silence is a path-breaking film. The film is one of the first in celebrating deaf culture and depicting deafness as a way of life. The documentary has successfully resonated with the silent stories of the deaf communities around the world. Now I am all set to embark on a very personal journey. Alien is very much my own story. This documentary is perhaps the most important film in the backdrop of the current immigration debate in America. While a lot has been spoken and seen about undocumented and illegal immigration issues, there is hardly a documentary made on legal immigrants.
I was born and raised in India. I got married in 2006 and first came to the United States on a dependent H4 visa, later I completed my Masters in Radio and Television from San Francisco state university on a F1 international student visa and now am working in Los Angeles on an O1 visa with a non-profit- Filmmakers Alliance as a Film Consultant and a filmmaker. My husband, Ram Iyer, (working on a H1B work permit visa) and I, are living examples of the everyday anxiety and deprivation that thousands of visa-holding, highly skilled immigrants are experiencing in this country.
I had a successful media career in India, but on a H4 visa, I could not even independently open a bank account nor could work! Thankfully, I was in California therefore I could drive and keep myself busy with the household work, but the stringent visa rules were taking a toll on me. I changed my status to an international student visa. After the change into student status, there was again a change of status into work permit visa. All these different visas have had their individual applying fees, unending paperwork, and lots of regulations just to stay in my country of choice. All these years, I have spent a colossal amount of time in just getting by the immigration system instead of investing the time into my creative work.
In 2006 I had thought of making a documentary on the lives of spouses who migrate to the US on different visas. I had started shooting interviews too; however, I realized the issues and agonies that the highly skilled spouses face in this country are only few such stories in this larger legal immigration saga. After researching and meeting highly skilled immigrants from different countries, I am convinced - the story of legal immigrants needs to be told, with all its contours and nuances so that the people get to understand what America is losing by alienating these precious brains.
Richard Herman, co-author of books on immigrants in the US, cites a new research from Brigham Young University that says that “American workers innovate and solve problems faster when working with a ”socially distinct newcomer,” meaning, a person from another culture.” (http://www.forbes.com/2009/12/17/indian-ceos-united-states-forbes-asia-indian-ceos.html)
Alien documentary attempts to bring to light the several challenges legal immigrants go through during their stay here in the US- legally! The struggle of finding an employer willing to process a work permit visa, frustrating delays and endless paperwork during filing the petitions, the anxiety during every job change while reinitiating the visa process, an eternal wait for the permanent residency, umpteen extensions of the visas, payment of the lawyer’s exorbitant visas- often paid by the immigrant, the inevitable task for every immigrant visiting his/her home country on vacation- VISA STAMPING!! There is a no guarantee that the American consulate in the home country will grant you the visa despite the immigrant getting a successful change of status in the US!! Vacation stories often do not have a happy ending.
Years of not streamlining the visa processes and unreasonable delays and denials have led to high amount of frustrations in the legal immigrant community. The current immigration policies are compelling bright and ambitious immigrants, with their innovative ideas, to return to their home countries or other “friendlier” economies. It is my sincere desire to bring out in the open - the reverse brain drain phenomenon in America is not only hampering US’ position in the global race, but is providing these skilled people greener pastures in countries like Australia, China, India, Chile and Singapore. America’s loss is benefitting the world!