Uncovering Our Stories: Sahar Shafqat

I came to the US in 1989 as an undergraduate student on an F-1 visa and remained on that visa status until completion of my Ph.D. in 2000. In 2000, I converted to H-1(b) status, sponsored by my employer. My job at the time was a 2-year position, so I was unable to be sponsored for a green card by them. This was a matter of great urgency and anxiety, since I was in a relationship and had been since 1993. My partner was from India, and I was from Pakistan, and it was not legally possible for us to make a life in either of those two countries. The major frustration that both my partner and I had was that because our relationship wasn’t recognized by the INS, we could not confer visa status on each other as legally married straight couples could, and thus had to make various compromises professionally in order to remain together.

In 2001, I moved to the DC area. Very luckily, my partner had gotten a job too, which meant that we could both remain in the country legally. Unfortunately, her job was in another city which meant that we had to maintain a long-distance relationship, with its attendant emotional and financial costs.

The most difficult part, however, was being apart in new places and at new jobs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, which unleashed such intense racism and Islamophobia that neither of us knew quite how to handle it all. Ultimately all of it took a toll on our relationship, which ended in early 2004. Meanwhile, I had started my green card process in October 2001. My employer was reluctant and I imagine that 9/11 had something to do with it, and it took a few interventions by higher-ups to start the process on their end. Of course, I paid for everything (which is against the rules, but a desperate immigrant has no recourse for such rules). I eventually got my green card in June 2004.

Receiving the green card was anti-climactic and, after such a long and difficult struggle, felt bittersweet. Yet again, the unfairness against LGBT people and the rigidity of the student and worker visa programs was apparent to me, despite our privilege of being in the “high-skilled” and high-earning categories in the immigration ranks of society. I was unable to sponsor my partner on my green card or any of my other visa statuses like straight couples can.

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