The land of the free

  • Nepalis may immigrate to the United States for various reasons, but they always take their identity along
- KAPIL KARKI, Kathmandu

Feb 18, 2018-

The number of Nepali persons residing in the United States is increasing. This immigration trend intensified after 1990. With the introduction of the Diversity Visa Lottery program (DV) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Nepalis have been beneficiaries to enter the US as a legal permanent resident (LPR) or with work authorisation. These LPRs brings their family and close relatives to America. Many of them go through naturalisation and become US citizens. There are many others who come in to the country as students or tourists or even business persons and decide to seek asylum. If approved, they live in the US as asylees or refugees. If not approved, they tend to live as undocumented immigrants. Some of them marry LPRs or US citizens, and many others find someone to adopt to secure their legal status in the US. In any way, they become a part of the US community.

Many of the Nepalis work in Indian facilities, because of their proficiency in Hindi and professional qualifications that are commonly related with the information technology sector. The Indian restaurant and grocery business is vibrant in the United States. And Nepalis are likely to find work in these places. Once upon a time, Nepalis used to go to India for work, but the situation has now changed, with a twist: The employers remain socio-culturally the same but the country of work is farther away. In this context, the H-1B visa has also incited many other Nepalis to enter the US under different pretext. On top of that, many Nepali come to the US illegally via Mexico. The number of the Nepalis is growing, both documented and undocumented, in many places of the US.

Tough journey out

Many of the Nepali immigrants spend a lot of money to get to America. Normally, the poor or the victims cannot afford to migrate to developed countries despite the presence of conflict, terrorism, or natural disaster. Young, or even adult, Nepalis go to the US as students, mostly with a view to never return. Of course, most students rely on scholarships that make migrating affordable. But those without scholarships have to pay an amount that is definitely not affordable if we compare the price to Nepal’s per capita GDP. Even if the student has academic skill and manages to secure enough money, a visa is not assured. Yet, people pursue many avenues to get to the US, as leaving the country is seen as a status symbol.

The first choice to migrate is the US for various reasons. Next, it would be Australia or Europe. Otherwise, Nepalis are forced to choose the Middle East or Malaysia, to become a subject of an endless tragedy. To meet this ultimate purpose to migrate, Nepalis not only try to develop skills needed for work abroad, but also depend upon the divine forces. 

Traditionally, Nepalis go to Char Dham, four abodes, for spiritual salvation. These include Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. For Visa salvation, many Nepalis go to pray to houses of worship that have become synonymous with visa application success, such as: Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara, Punjab; Chilkur Balaji Temple, Hyderabad; Khadia Hanuman Temple, Ahmedabad; Visa Wale Bajranbali Temple, New Delhi. In addition to these Visa Lords, Nepalis also pray to their Kul Devta, or Kul Devi. Astrologers and soothsayers earn a lot of money from visa matters in Nepal. There are numerous institutions and companies in Nepal to assure their client of the visa under various pretexts.

Getting there is half the battle

Once Nepalis successfully reach their intended destination, the true struggle begins. The trauma they inherit by leaving their place is likely to be mitigated by resorting to alcoholism. Many others suffer bipolar disorder and similar types of psychological complications. But it is not the same for all. Due to the pain and suffering they endure in Nepal, many Nepalis consider the US as heaven. In the US, they normally do not face the scarcity for the survival they might have faced back home, but the question of integration is challenging.

People are most likely to go where people they know already reside. When the Nepali arrives in the US, they search for places where they can find persons that share their identity. This selection is influenced by their ethnicity, religion, and the region of Nepal they are from. Secondarily, political affiliation, caste and language are also important aspects in choosing an area to settle in. There are many dividers in Nepal, and all these dividers reappear in different forms and dimensions even when the Nepalis cross their national borders for good. For example, an ethnic group forms its own organisation in the US, and those who belong to that ethnic group are organised on the basis of that particular ethnicity.  For this and any other reasons, Nepalis in the US tend to be assimilated on the basis of the identity factors that defined them back home.

Karki is a researcher at Aadarsh Multiple Campus, Bhaktapur

Published: 18-02-2018 08:13

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