UC Berkeley student, family and attorney share US immigration struggles

If TJ is forced to leave America, he would not get to complete his senior year at Cal
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 News was introduced to the Chauhan family in 2019. Parents, Sudhir and Punita, were beaming as their son TJ moved into his freshman dorm at UC Berkeley. The family is from India, has lived in America since 2013, but now has hit a major snag with the U.S. immigration system.

"It's very difficult to put into words," Sudhir said. "I try to keep myself positive."

Sudhir works for a private consulting firm and has an H1B visa. It's popular among international workers. His wife Punita and son TJ have H4 visas, which are issued for dependent family members, and don't allow them to work in the U.S.

TJ is a junior chemical engineering major at CAL and needs an internship to help remain competitive with classmates and land a job after graduation.

"You know it feels really bad to see that despite him putting in all his efforts, there are some circumstances that are beyond everyone," Sudhir said. "No one can really help until the immigration is taken care of."

TJ needs his H4 visa converted to an F1 visa. The family submitted the paperwork for the change in July of 2020.

"A process that usually takes around 6 to 7 months is still underway right now as we speak," Sudhir said. "So, it's like more than a year now."

"Unfortunately, this happens to a lot of people and it's been happening more in I think the last several years," Ann Block, senior special projects attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), said. "It was clear that the last administration wanted to decrease immigration to our country. Our immigration laws are broken."

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Block said COVID made the existing immigration backlog in the U.S. much worse.

"The Department of State had its budget cut," Block continued. "It's made it really hard for those of us who are trying to help people legally come to the United States, as well as those that are here in whatever status they have to become legal, or permanent residents, or visa holders, to work here legally. It's really been difficult."

In TJ's case, he's at risk of aging out of the H4 visa. You can't stay on it once you turn 21. He's 20.

"If he ages out, then he either needs to have an alternate visa like the F1 visa, which is underway, or he has to leave the country," Sudhir said.

If TJ is forced to leave America, he would not get to complete his senior year at UC Berkeley. The school and Sudhir's company are aware of the issue.

The family has also hired a private attorney. All anyone can do is wait on the government.

Meanwhile, there are families across the country with similar issues and not even a fraction of the resources.

"It could take them years, if ever, to be able to have the relative's adjusted status, or to have their employee become legal if they are a small company and don't have the resources of a big firm or the University of California assisting them," Block said.

The Chauhans are dealing with a separate immigration issue in the background of all of this. Punita has been stuck India since March. She left to visit her ailing mother after already losing one parent at the height of the pandemic in India. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and her visa status, Punita still can't come back to the U.S.

Block explained that when families have been waiting for as long as the Chauhan family, a common next step is to reach out to a congressional representative for help. The Chauhans are actively working on taking those next steps.

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