PhD grad school doesn’t pay me enough…I’ll need to graduate soon with a decent job in line…will my company sponsor my H1B?…will I be able to find a job in time before my student visa expires and my temporary work permit runs its course?…I’ll need to read the last two hundred pages of “The short version of US Immigration laws”…What if I have to leave the country?…Will I be able to take my pet cat along?…This is too complicated…I wish I was home now, basking in the winter sun, having peanuts and yapping with my cousins…
These were the last months of my PhD grad school, churning my brain with how-to’s and what-if’s and desperately looking for a job. These are the last few months of anyone who is finishing school in the US. The cat might be my added frill.
A lot of Indian students, who go to the US for a higher degree, end up working there after. Well, actually not just a lot but pretty much every. Going to the US, for a higher degree, has a set defined process, summarized by many before. GRE, AGRE, TOEFL, TSE, GMAT, SAT to name a few.
Once you graduate, there are the other rules about getting an Optional Practical Training (OPT) to get a work permit, for a year, towards getting your H1B visa. Then there is an OPT extension period for STEM field. There are the rules to apply for H1B for academia vs non-academia. Then there are lotteries for H1B. Green Card applications follow after and you are slotted in either one of an EB1, EB2 or EB3 category.
I have never attempted to figure all of these out cause I like myself too much to go through the pain of understanding the details. And, of course, there are people who have made careers out of disentangling the web of the US Immigration system. But this article is not about how to get to the US, this is about how to get back.
After graduating and getting my title, you know, the one that cannot save lives, I got a job at Intel. So I set out to drive my car a distance of 1500 miles, from Michigan to New Mexico, with a comforter, three pots, clothes and a cat.
In a few months, after joining, Intel started processing my H1B and Green Card and I was well on my way to changing my status from a “Resident Alien” (trust me, that’s a term in US Immigration) to a “Resident Earthling”, an immigrant worker’s drool-worthy scenario. But after almost three years of working and nine years in the US, I decided to come back. The decision was personal and I am not here to say why to return home, but rather how.
Thinking of returning back to India for good?
Let’s say you are thinking about coming home. Of course or else you would be surfing vfsglobal.com and not reading this. But you haven’t decided when to…but that’s alright. It just gives you time and if I have learnt anything, as someone who was brought up in India, you need time to get things done.
So, you have been in the US long enough to say woa(t)er instead of water. But an accent-change isn’t really a fair metric. Is it? It can take from a few weeks for some people to a few years for some.
Maybe another measure could be that you have spent most of your adult life in the US, never having voted in India. So you probably don’t have a Voter Card, no PAN card since you have never paid taxes here, no AADHAR card since you don’t have the other IDs to get that started.
In other words, if you were to return home now, you wouldn’t be able to open a bank account, or rent an apartment, or even get a phone connection on your name without a KYC. I used to think KYC is an Indian take on KFC, Kentucky Yam Chicken. It led to some very embarrassing moments when I walked into a bank and got asked for a KYC and I replied, “but I have already eaten!”.
Must-have items on the relocation checklist
Know Your Chicken..err Customer.
Well before you decide to make the trip back home, get your documents in order. Apply for the very handy PAN card through the Income Tax Department, online. Voter Card can be applied online too, through the (National Voter’s Service Portal).
These are sufficient to get you started. Almost all your accounts, phone cards etc can be verified using these two. They basically tell the service providers that the Indian Government knows you exist and they have your permanent address to send you your birthday cards.
Transferring your money to Indian bank accounts
The next thing, on your list, would be to get your hard earned, US Govt. taxed, money back home. Get your NRI accounts set up on any Indian bank and use ICICI, Axis Bank or many like them, to transfer your money to your NRI accounts.
A tip is to keep an eye out for a good day for the exchange rate in favor of Rupees. Once you return home, convert the NRI accounts to normal savings account and start paying taxes on your interests accrued in India.
Finding a job after returning to India
There is nothing amazingly different about job hunts in India, but my experience suggests there is still a strong gain to be made from networking, here. Passing on your CVs to people you know, helps. Employee referrals help. So, even if you don’t like that guy from college, the one who used to laugh at his own jokes, now working in that company you like, you send a friendly poke on facebook and ask him how he is doing.
Academics need to become visible here in India. The research community, here, may have never heard of you or your collaborators. They have their hands full with their colleagues and collaborators. So, start writing to them and arrange to give job talks at various institutes. I know of people who would even get their vacation, home, signed off as academic leaves, thanks to a few presentations here and there.
Anyway, getting jobs in India is tough. Competition is in people’s veins. People here are facing it everyday and trust me when I say that they have honed the skill of competition to a second nature. Still quite unused to it, I had someone push me out of the way to grab a plate of dessert, at a family wedding of all the places. I mean we could have been related, who knows…I hope not. So be prepared for some frustration.
Offers are few and communication is minimal. You might get lucky and get a rejection letter but don’t count on it. Most places don’t bother with letters. But rule of thumb is, no news is probably bad news. After you do get a job, don’t start comparing your salary, in the US, to India. That’s fatal and more so, pointless. Compare it with the Indian pay scales and see where it fits in your lifestyle.
Tips to manage the move back to India
Get rid of stuff. I cannot insist on this more. The less you bring, the cheaper, better still, faster the move will seem. I sold my furniture, my electronics and my car, on craigslist. Of course you have to be beware of scammers in online dealings.
Selling your car might be tricky. If you are going for a private sale vs dealer sale, you might get a better price but then again beware of pesky scammers.
Always check the credentials of the individual. Get a bill of sale from your local DMV and get the Title transfer procedure checked out thoroughly. Also always make sure you get a copy of the individual’s signature on the bill of sale and inform the DMV after the sale is completed. I know, it’s a lot to take. So I dragged a coworker along to double check whatever I did.
And never ever deal in cash. Insist on a Cashier’s cheque. It is just much safer and cleaner. If you sell your car to a dealer, the process will be simpler but you will most definitely get an under-priced quote.
I donated my books and clothes. My conscience was very grateful that week. As for my kitchen, I called my friends and coworkers over, asked them to cook a feast at my house and they could take whatever they wanted, on their way out. They were happy to relieve me off my pots and pans and I got to eat finger-licking good food. A pretty good deal.
Now, airlines charge an arm and a leg for extra bags. So, I found a cheaper way to send things that I didn’t want to get rid off. US Postal Service can send international parcels at a reasonable cost. So, I sent home a few and it may have cost me about $50 to $100 bucks per parcel, depending on the size and weight of the box. Now if you go for cargo shipping, it may cost you upwards of $2000 bucks. You do the math.
Getting pets to move with you
Here comes the part where I made no compromises. I wanted to bring my pet cat along to Delhi. She had been with me for 5 years, at that time, and I simply didn’t want to hand her over to the animal shelter.
I hired an international pet mover, Animal Land Movers (Petmovers.com/). Her move was expensive but extremely well organized. These guys have been doing this for a while and on a multi-continental scale, taking care of all the following (quoted directly from their correspondence):
– Provide customs clearance.
– Work with your schedule to book the most convenient, most direct flight for your pet. Airfare is included in the quote.
– Provide you with the paperwork the airlines require.
– Provide you with the labels and documents required by IATA and the TSA.
– Provide you with detailed directions to the facilities you will need to visit at the airport.
– The day of your pet’s move they track every minute of the flight. They make sure the plane takes off on time, make sure all connections are met if there are any, and make sure that your pet is off loaded, as soon as possible, upon arrival. Make sure that the cargo, your pet would be flying in, is environmentally conducive for a safe flight.
– Most importantly they provide you with a 24 hour number where you can get someone on the phone to answer your questions.
So my cat flew in separately, a day after I arrived and was brought to my house by one of their agents. Apparently my cat layover’d at a pet spa for ten hours, at the Heathrow airport, where the staff played with her to exercise her body and a Vet checked her out for any discomfort. Meanwhile I flew with low leg space, long hours of layover at a terminal where all the restrooms where getting cleaned at the same time.
Managing the culture shock after arriving in India
Even if you grew up here, it is still a culture shock. Everything around seems to be chaotic and yet functioning somehow. The cities aren’t as clean as the one you were living in, the roads have no lanes, no one gives any pedestrian any right of way.
Not claiming to pass a judgement, I think what you need to prepare yourself for, is a difference. Don’t expect the same kind of lifestyle. That would be ridiculous. A few months may go by before you start seeing a home grown order in that chaos.
Things just function differently. You don’t yellow page the plumber or electrician or the handy man, like you used to. You ask that guy who knows that guy and soon you will be a phone call away from any service. People don’t drive in lanes or stay at a distance of 10 feet from other cars, but instead they drive bumper to bumper. It’s different. Give yourself that transitioning time.
Looking back at my relocating experience
It has been over a year since I have come back and I am still in the process of settling in. Moving is harrowing. It is harrowing enough when you move houses, let alone continents, but if your end goal is what is driving you to move, then it is just worth it.
Having an idea, of the steps to take, is a good place to start. It took me about a year from the time I decided I would move to when I actually did. It was hard, all by myself, scavenging for information for everything.
Sometimes I would even wish I hadn’t decided to come back at all. But now, as I am sitting here on my patio, sipping coffee with my cousins, having done exactly what I had set out to do two years ago, I think it was worth it.
Read these related posts:
– Reasons why NRIs are returning to India – Reverse Brain Drain
– Best ways H4 dependent visa holders can work in the USA