Is settling in the USA worth it for an Indian?
Let me portray the typical life cycle of Indians in the USA with their living conditions and then I will let you decide whether settling in the USA is worth or not.
As an Indian immigrant in the USA, I have been asking myself this question for a quite long time. The reality is 95% of the Indian immigrants are settling in the US and only 5% of the immigrants are going back to India. I wondered if the “Major chunk(95%) of people settling in the US are making a wise decision or the small chunk(5%) of people going back are making a bad decision?” So I asked this question to my friends and colleagues from the 95% category but I could not get any subtle or profound answers. It looked like people are just following the crowd or falling into the trap, and not be able to go back later in life. So I did my own research asking specific set of survey questions to different age people. So let me share my findings.
First of all, why do Indians migrate to the US? One single answer for this question is scope for higher income, savings, low stress and a happy life without any common issues we experience in India. Now let’s see how these objectives are met during the life cycle of these Indian immigrants. Let me use the word NRI to describe them better.
My survey was limited to NRIs in the field of science and technology who are mostly in working class and also to a few business class NRIs as well. I took ratings on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 is low and 10 is high) for earnings, savings, stress levels, family relationships and happiness from different age categories with their typical activities in their life cycle. I realized that not every NRI in the US opens up because of ‘private space’ concept. So I chose people I have good relationship with and who are really open and can share feelings of their life. The Survey was conducted with a casual talk/discussion rather than a professional way of conducting surveys.
Based on the survey results and experiences shared by participants, I categorized the life cycle of immigrants into four different generic phases (Transform, settling in the USA, Growth and Suffer) as shown in the graph below. Every person’s life is different so the depicted life cycle or living conditions may not apply to every NRI. It may vary for few people and life events may overlap or flip between phases. This might be totally different for the new NRIs coming to the US because of longer green card wait time and ever changing immigration policies.
Now let me describe these phases with typical life events.
Transform Phase (21 to 28 years): This an excitement phase which starts right from India after getting the US visa. One tries to get to know the culture of the US, what to do before and after entering the US and starts living the American Dream. Parents feel proud of this great achievement by their kids and start making big expectations and hopes. Starts sharing this news to neighbors and relatives and throw a big party as if their kid already succeeded in life. Arrives in the US without the awareness that he/she broke generations of living together and unity in their families. Typically nobody think or care about how life will be in the US after 40s, 50s or 60s in this stage. One gets really amazed with the best infrastructure of America and starts loving it. Gets used to American life style with few hiccups. Starts making some money and will have parties, shopping, vacation trips and realizes that life is very comfortable in the US. Transfers money to India to support family and talks to relatives and friends and shares the greatness of America. Parents will start looking for a bride/groom. Starts green card process to continue living in American dream.
NRIs are very happy in this phase with lots of excitement and joy that American life brings in.
settling in the USA Phase (28 to 40 years): After a couple of trips to India, gets married and spouse arrives in the US. Couple is very happy in the beginning with vacation trips and parties. Realizes that expenses are higher than living as a bachelor. First baby arrives and parents and in-laws visit America. Advances in green card process, switches jobs and moves to new locations. Second baby arrives and then visits India with kids. Realizes that their parents are not quite happy staying alone in India. Also realizes that India has changed a lot and quite expensive than ever but invests money in Indian real estate. Thinks that they may not be able to fit in India and also India is not a right fit for the kids. NRIs usually decide to go on the path of settling down in the US with a backup plan of going back. Buys Town Home/Condo and switches to luxury cars. Realizes that single income is not really sustainable in the US. Wife decides to do a job instead of getting bored at home. So Income doubles, savings doubles but stress levels go up. Green card arrives and they feel relaxed of immigration issues. Vacation trips becomes hard with little kids so no big vacations.
Happiness level comes down due to missing family relationships and not able to take care of aging parents.
Growth Phase (40 to 50 years): Moves on career ladder and starts making big bucks and also start making big bucks from secondary sources of income like stocks. Some might start a startup company or any business. Usually pretty busy with kids school and extra curricular activities. Buys a single family home and moves to a bigger home. Kids are grown up now so vacations are back. Parents are not able to visit because they don’t like to stay in the US. Also parent’s health will become a big concern. Makes few arrangements for parents in India but they are always temporary. Few realize that their friends in India have made more money in India than them. Realizes that they need to focus more on health aspects so starts some physical activities to break sedentary lifestyle.
Higher income, higher savings and most successful phase (professionally) for most people but happiness level further comes down because of lack of relationships.
Suffer Phase (Above 50 years): Kids usually finish their high school and go to a college. All savings will vanish in kids college education. Kids finish their education and start their job at a different place in the US. The couple is alone at big home away from parents and away from kids. They cannot think of going back because of kids and setting up everything from scratch in India would be a daunting task. Whenever they visit India they clearly see that family relationships are faded away because of settling in US. Most people thought that early in growth phase would have been an ideal situation to go back to India, before kids enters middle school with a mind set of going back in settling in the USA phase. But growth phase’s higher income and savings will keep postponing their Indian dream.
Most people expressed that “We got everything we wanted in life, but we lost all relationships”. Some people expressed concern like “I wish I knew the downsides or effects of immigration later in the life”.
Starts indulging deeply in social and charity activities to keep them busy and also for social recognition. Usually takes up American citizenship in this phase while some take it up in the growth phase itself.
Works until 65 years of age to pay off mortgage and retires at the age of 65. After 65 years they start getting social security and healthcare benefits from government. But they continue to work in some retirement jobs to keep them busy or to earn some extra income for unanticipated expenses.
Just to summarize, life is happy in the beginning but happiness tends to fade away and brings suffering to life after 50s. Materialistic culture of America makes you a successful person professionally and materialistically, but deserts you from old friends and family. One interesting observation during this study — most of the people who immigrated to America had no plans to settling in the USA and most of the settled ones said, “We are not sure we might go back”.
Every NRI looks like a happy person from outside but everyone has a dark side story to tell from inside of their heart.
Life in the US rotates around profession, immigration process and kids. NRIs tend to “sacrifice their life for kids of next generation.” Kids seems to be happy with no complaints about life as they are in young age; the second generation, Indian-Americans, will have friends but might not have family relationships too? So they might end up in the same boat after 50 years age? Needs further research…
Thanks to my friends, colleagues and elders from community who humbly shared their deep thoughts from life for this small write-up and also helping me to make a strong decision to go back to India.
Hope this helps. Everybody’s requirements are different and every country is different. So just a make a firm decision to settling in the USA or to go back based on your own requirements and priorities, not based on what other NRIs are doing.