Uncovering Our Stories: Dhaval Shah

Uncovering Our Stories: Dhaval from Asian Pride Project on Vimeo.

I grew up in Ahmadabad, India, the largest city in my state of Gujarat. I come from a working class background. My mom is a teacher and my dad worked for the State Government. India was a wonderful place to grow up, but I knew I wanted more.

I graduated college in the mid-1990s. India had just recently opened up its economy, so there was still a dearth of professional opportunities. I knew that there were excellent education and professional opportunities available to me in the US. At the time, my sexuality did not play a role in my decision to study abroad. While I knew I was different than my classmates and friends, I couldn’t put a label or name to it. There were no open or out examples around me, so I was a closeted gay man to everyone, including myself.

Using an F1 student visa, I began to pursue a Masters in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. It was an exciting time to be a software engineer. When I graduated in 1998, the “dotcom era” was still in full force, and I received four offers from companies willing to sponsor my H1B visa. Looking back, I was very lucky. Just two years later, the bubble burst and many of my friends had, and continue to have, a tough time getting jobs and sponsorships.

With Nokia in the San Francisco Bay area, I began the arduous process of getting my H1B visa. Even as a highly skilled worker with the support of a large corporation, the process was extremely challenging and, at times, I thought I would have to move to Nokia’s Canadian or European offices. With such a restrictive visa process, the US really risks losing in-demand employees to international competition. Thankfully, I was able to get my H1B visa in time and, again with the support of Nokia, filed for my green card a couple of years later.

As I adjusted myself to this country, I started to come out to myself as gay. My parents made this discovery in 1999 when visiting from India. While my dad was supportive, my mom was very upset. She has come a long way since then, and was happy when she recently visited and saw that I had become an active member of the Bay Area South Asian LGBTQ Community.

In 2008, 10 years after arriving in this country, I became a US citizen. One of the benefits of citizenship that has recently become very important to me is the ability to move outside US borders and freely return. I will soon move back to India to pursue social impact work and take care of my aging parents. If I were still only a permanent resident or on an H1B visa, going back to India for an extended period, even to take care of my parents, would jeopardize my immigration status.

I still consider my home the USA. Even though it doesn’t personally affect me right now, the overturning of DOMA was huge news. As a citizen, I now feel the freedom to date and meet someone in India and, possibly, bring him to the USA to live safely together. It is nice to have that kind of freedom.

My immigration experience has been a positive one. The US has been good for me in terms of my education, career, and ability to live openly as a gay man. I want those opportunities for everyone, but I know many talented people who struggle to immigrate. We must streamline and expand the H1B visa program for international students, and we must expand paths to full citizenship for immigrants on employment visas. Receiving all the rights and freedoms of citizenship has been a blessing for me. That is why I support comprehensive immigration reform.

Asian Pride Project (, Kat Rabbitt Productions (, and Brian Chamberlain