In a heart-wrenching post, a Microsoft software engineer opened up about her personal immigration story.
Sri Ponnada shared on Facebook that she must leave the United States in six months because of the nation's current immigration issues that have forced her and her family to wait years for green cards, despite proper documentation. Her post is starting conversations about how the system is also impacting children who came to this country, and those who are now adults still navigating a complex green card process.
On a page dedicated to support for her case, Ponnada, who is currently residing in Washington, offered a detailed account of her experiences as a child who immigrated to the country with her parents when she was 14 from Jamaica, though she is originally from India.
In the post, she discusses the opportunities she seized while a student at University of Iowa, and the contributions she and her family have made — such as her mother's work as "a doctor in an underserved community in Iowa." Ponnada also shared that she has worked with non-profits, encouraging girls to join STEM fields and is involved in social service projects with the city of Seattle outside of her work at Microsoft.
"I have had great opportunities in this country so far, but I still face the same anxiety I’ve had since childhood about my visa status," she explains. "Even though I have lived here practically my whole life and work at Microsoft, I had to apply for a H1B visa — which is a LOTTERY — just to be able to stay in the country because there is no way for kids like me to stay here with our parents who become lawful permanent residents through the green card process."
The immigration status of Ponnada's parents is unclear, but we've reached out for additional information.
H-1B visas are temporary visas filed by employers. Due to the amount of people seeking the visa, petitions are chosen via lottery. Those who are selected are granted three years of work within the United States. According to the New York Times, many (though not all) visas are granted to software engineers and those working in tech, like, Ponnada.
"I haven’t been selected for a H1B in the lottery - so when my STEM OPT expires next February, I’ll have to leave my family, my friends, and my home in the United States — the only country I’ve known since I became a teenager," she explains on Facebook.
STEM OPT is a program facilitated by the Department of Homeland Security for those who have graduated from a STEM program at an accredited U.S. college or university.
"Where should I go? Jamaica - where I came from? Or to India where I was born but haven’t lived in since I was 3 years old?," she continued.
Ponnada explains that while she is currently working and residing in the country on a STEM OPT extension, she initially came on a dependent children's visa. "Due to the huge green card backlog for individuals from India, I lost my dependent visa status at the age of 21 as I was no longer a minor," she recounted. This meant she had to convert her initial dependent children's visa to a student visa in order to complete her education.
When her extension runs out in six months, she will have to "self-deport" because she was unable to obtain a visa, despite having a permanent job.
"That makes no sense to me," she wrote. "And I hope it doesn’t make sense to you either."
In another post, Ponnada shared the ways in which people can support her efforts to stay within the country. Many action items, like calling Congress or sharing personal stories, are similar things one can do if seeking ways to help immigrant children and undocumented youth throughout the country.
Within Microsoft, the company's Assistant General Counsel Jack Chen offered his support for Ponnada, along with U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, (R-Kansas) who met with her in June.
I'm proud to call Sri a Microsoft colleague. Thank you @RepKevinYoder for taking the time to hear our employees stories, and for your commitment to eliminating #percountry limits. #HR392 https://t.co/FlFWbwzGI6
— Jack Chen (@jakchen) June 21, 2018
You can read Ponnada's full post here.