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Stories from American Immigrants: From India to Indiana to Dallas in Pursuit of Higher Education
Tulip Nandu came to the U.S. from India not to escape poverty but to forge his own path in the field of medicine. Using F1 and H1-B visas, Tulip has begun living the American Dream.
Stories from American ImmigrantsThis story is a part of the Bush Institute's Stories from American Immigrants series that looks at different ways immigrants contribute to the U.S. and its economy.
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In 2010, at the age of 24, Tulip Nandu left India and came to the United States to pursue a second master’s degree at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), a public research university. Tulip had never visited the U.S. prior to his 2010 arrival.
According to America’s Advantage: A Handbook on Immigration and Economic Growth from the George W. Bush Institute, immigrants to the United States are more likely than native born Americans to have advanced college degrees. In fact, 19.8 percent of immigrants who came to the U.S. after 2010 held advanced degrees.
Tulip’s Q&A is part of a series of immigration stories conducted by the George W. Bush Institute.
Why did you decide to leave India and why did you decide to come to the U.S.?
I always wanted to come to the U.S. for studies and live the “American university life.” Seeing my cousins studying here and also hearing stories, I wanted to experience how different the education system is here, learn, explore, and meet new people. The U.S. also hosts some of the best opportunities for my field of research so it was an easy choice. Also, the culture here is more welcoming than most countries.
What degrees do you hold and are you currently pursuing any others?
I did my undergraduate in life sciences and biochemistry from the University of Mumbai. Then I did a master’s in biological sciences with a specialization in molecular biology and genetics from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. From there, I came to the U.S. to pursue my master’s in bioinformatics from IUPUI.
I then took up a job at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas as a computational biologist and have been there since 2013. Currently, I'm pursuing a part time MBA program from the University of Texas at Dallas.
What challenges did you and your wife, Shailey, face, especially when you first moved here?
The major challenge is a cultural one. India and the U.S. are polar opposites when it comes to culture and tradition. Although there is an increase of Western influence in India, the core culture of India still dates back centuries. The way we interact, the way we do certain things, our festivals, rituals, even marriages are quite different. So when I see the same things here, I'm quite amazed how much we differ. We have started enjoying and understanding why Americans do certain things a certain way and kind of respect that too.
We are used to a certain living style, especially in Bombay. My family is in business and lived a pampered life, you can say. That was another reason why I moved to the U.S. -- so I can build something of my own, away from my family and away from all the comforts of life.
What was the process of immigrating to the U.S.? What program allowed you to immigrate to the U.S.?
Initially, I came on a F1 student visa, and since I had the admissions letter from the university and other finances sorted the process was straight forward. I had to go to the U.S. embassy in Mumbai (Bombay) for an interview and get my passport stamped. That was a straight forward visa procedure.
Now, I am on a H1-B visa. The process of renewing it and doing the green card application is more tedious, time consuming, and complicated. After your F1 visa expires you are given 12 months (STEM receives an additional extension for 24 months) to find a job. Once you find a job, employers need to sponsor your H1-B visa. Then an application needs to be submitted and there is a lottery due to the amount of applications submitted each year. Once that is done, your file is checked and if an error is found your application is sent for additional inquiry. Once that is done, we need to get a stamp from a U.S. consulate outside the country, like India (being my home country), and must have an interview with a U.S. agent. If you are in the biological field, you can also go through an additional background check, and, again, that timeline can take quite long. I have seen my friends stuck for 6 months in this process.
The H1-B visa is good for three years once all the steps are complete and you are approved. You need to apply for H1-B visa renewal for another three years, and at present the process takes six to eight months. You must also leave the country again and follow the same procedure. But, thankfully, no lottery this time. After this three-year period ends, unless you have applied for a green card, you cannot stay in the country. Getting a green card for Indians can take seven to nine years.
Did you find a community of immigrants who were able to help you adjust to American life?
There were a bunch of senior Indian students and also Indian organizations at IUPUI, which helped us [Tulip and his wife] during the initial phase to get used to the University policies. A major help for me personally was my community, which has host families in most major cities across the U.S. who guide new students and accommodate them so they get over the initial homesick feeling.
What advice would you give other immigrants who are just starting out in the U.S.?
Stay Focused. Keep your ears and eyes open. This is a country of opportunities -- stick it out. Work hard and you will reap the benefits.
Is there a moment when you realized that you “made it” or started living the American Dream? What was that feeling like?
My wife and I bought a house, and you can say that’s living the American Dream. A feeling of contentment came when I bought my first car in 2012 after my studies. Also, once I had graduated and gotten my degree, during the convocation I felt I had achieved my aim that I had set up before setting my foot in this country.