How Work Visa Uncertainty Made Me More Successful at Work
19 October, 2020
I worked on a work visa for six years in the US and two years in the UK. These were challenging circumstances that made me stay outside of my comfort zone and push myself to do a bit more. I never had the luxury to demand differently, regardless of the task asked of me. My job security was paramount. Every year in an annual appraisal cycle I would ask what else I could do and my managers would tell me later that I was overcommitting quite a few times. However, I used this unfavorable situation to my advantage -- to work harder and eventually succeed. It also helped me reinvent myself and re-optimize my performance every year -- a process that coincided with my annual visa renewal.
To understand how uncertainty can help me grow, I had to deep-dive into my own motivation, my own fears, and my own aspirations and to reflect on the specificities of my immigrant situation. I also had a frank conversation with one of my managers that helped me realize that I was always over-delivering because I was all the time on the back foot because I was an immigrant. My manager -- with whom I had that conversation -- was full of understanding. He told me that if it would come to redundancy, they would find a way to have me stay.
The key difference between a national who would become redundant and an immigrant is that a national would only lose a job, while an immigrant would also have to leave the country and often within 30 days. Therefore, I never had much of a choice. I would either continue working and stay in the US or become redundant and go back to India. I wouldn’t be able to apply for a visa in Canada or the UK without having an employer who would sponsor my visa and most often the employer wouldn’t have an office in those countries (with less restrictive visa policies).
To overcome my uncertain situation, one of the things I considered was completing M.S. in the US and upscaling myself but that implied a considerable time commitment. I had to work and study at the same time and my then-employer decided to reimburse the cost of my study only afterward. Having to pay upfront a significant amount of money myself and knowing that I would have to be at the top of my class to have my studies reimbursed made me hesitant about it. Instead, I decided to enroll in the online course and make sure that I have the discipline to study every day after work. It turned out that I did well in the course which at that point was enough for my managers who wanted to see that I was taking tangible steps to improve myself and go above and beyond their expectations.
Building relationships in a new environment and a new culture was one of the biggest challenges I had to encounter. Every time my boss would change I would have to build that relationship all over again and I always felt I had to please people around me. The psychological pressure of having to be likable and having to build and manage relationships with my managers and peers was taxing.
I also had to learn a different language and become adjusted to a different culture. For example, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol and I am vegetarian. I never felt comfortable at parties where people would drink and I could never socialize at smoke breaks. Also, people would make fun of me because I don’t eat meat. I had to learn to understand baseball and American football and be able to chat about it. On top of that, I had a strong accent and had difficulties expressing myself that added to the overall stress of not being able to mingle and communicate with people. However, I worked at companies that were hugely supportive of my migrant and diverse background. They would make sure to provide vegan options for me and would never ask me to drink, among other things.
- Migrants often encounter problems their colleagues have a hard time even imagining. However, being away from your home and family and being constantly outside of your comfort zone can help you develop coping mechanisms. I learn not to look at things as an opportunity to fail but as an opportunity to learn.
- To succeed you have to go out of your comfort zone. As an immigrant, I did it so many times over the last couple of years and I am thankful because it helped me become who I am today. It made me a person who is able to take risks, be confident and assertive.
- As an immigrant, you will always be on the back foot and would often worry about what your family would say if you would have to return back to your country of origin. But, that can play to your advantage. It can motivate you to work harder, become successful and be able to cope with any difficulty the future may bring.
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