Uncovering Our Stories: Shweta Kumar

Shweta Final from Asian Pride Project on Vimeo.

I was born in a remote area of Uttar Pradesh, in India. My parents are surgeons who run their small hospital in the area.

Education was always highly valued in my family. In high school, I was a driven student and set my sights on going to law school. Since I didn’t want to pursue the traditional Indian tracks of engineering and medicine, I independently began researching going to the USA for college.

I was also coming out to myself as a lesbian during these years. This realization began when I was 12 or 13, but reality didn’t fully hit until the age of 15. I entered into a serious relationship and, despite my stellar record, was almost expelled from school. I lived in a boarding school and the administration of the school tried to expel me because of my perceived sexual orientation. I was not out at the time and thus the school was acting based on what they believed to be my orientation.

Due to constant harassment from peers and the school administration, I began to think more and more about the implications of staying in India for college. I knew going to college in India would mean going back into the closet and, for me, it was important to be open and honest with those around me.

Thankfully, my parents and friends supported me during this difficult time, and I was accepted to UC Berkeley. An F1 student visa paved my way to the US in September 2009. At Berkeley, I majored in political science and then decided to stay at UC Berkeley to pursue my law degree.

As a law student, I can stay in the US on a student visa. If I had not gone to law school, I would have had only one year to find a job to sponsor me on an H1B visa. This can be a stressful and even hopeless process for any immigrant, given that only large companies have the resources to sponsor immigrants.

When I look at my experience and those of my immigrant peers, I believe the H1B employment visa process should be streamlined and expanded. The US (and immigrants like me) invest a lot of time and money so motivated students can become educated workers. The loss of this talent when we cannot easily stay and work in the US is a loss for the country.

It would be beneficial to increase the jobs H1B immigrants can seek, and make it simpler for students to open up their own start-ups. I have my own film production company, but would not be able to stay in this country in this capacity. After I complete law school and my student visa ends, I will only have the option of joining a large firm to get my H1B employment visa.

I hope I am on path to becoming a permanent resident. In the US, I received and continue to receive a great education. As a gay woman, I am out in my community and know it would be impossible to do so in India. If I have a partner, I would not feel comfortable raising a family in India as a same-sex couple. And, as a woman, I believe I have more opportunities and less challenges here in the US.

The repeal of DOMA relieves some of the pressure of being an LGBTQ immigrant, but it must become easier for international students like me to earn H1B employment visas. That is why I support comprehensive immigration reform.

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Asian Pride Project (www.asianprideproject.com), Kat Rabbitt Productions (www.katrabbitt.com), and Brian Chamberlain