Settling in USA: Is the Dream-Land Worth It?

By Venkat Ankam (living in Fairfax, VA, USA)

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 it or not.

As an Indian immigrant in the USA, I have been asking myself this question for quite a 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-group people. Let me share my findings.

First of all, why do Indians migrate to the US? One single answer for this question is most of Indians wish to migrate because they think that there 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 the lowest and 10 is the highest) for earnings, savings, stress levels, family relationships and happiness from different age categories with their typical activities in their life cycle. I also 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, Settle, 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 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.

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.

Settle 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. Thinks that they may not be able to fit in India and also India is not a right fit for the kids. NRIs usually decides 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 keep their body fit.

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 settle phase.

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 takes up in growth phase only.

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 unknown 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 your life. One interesting observation during this study — most of the people who immigrated to America had no plans to settle in the US 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. So just a make a firm decision to settle here or to go back based on your own requirements and priorities, not based on what other NRIs are doing.

Update: Thank you Quorans for overwhelming response. I think this post has gone viral — 97K views, 3.7K upvotes and ~700 shares in 1 day. This clearly indicates that most NRIs are in this dilemma. Received 101 comments so far, 80 with positive sentiment, 9 with negative sentiment and 11 with neither positive or negative sentiment. My observations from these comments.

People who expressed negative sentiment are still in transform phase in US or few youngsters in India (Probably with American dream). Interestingly this was found to be true for other immigrants/expats too, not just Indians. Most of them expressed a feeling that this is a problem for the first generation of immigrants. Later generations will not have such problems. Need to research this further. Many people who expressed positive sentiment felt that situation might be similar in India as well.

Here I would like to add that that professionals with equivalent qualifications and intelligence may earn 50 to 60 % less in India compared to USA but are living more comfortable life with their own house and servants and a driver at their disposal. They are also saving enough to take a week or two holiday in a country 50 to 70 times costlier than India. They are definite enjoying a more luxurious life than their counterparts in USA. They are also able to take care of their parents if they want to. Just think.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie Ellison
    Aug 03, 2019 @ 16:28:29

    An interesting article about the fate of NRIs in the US, as I’m very familiar with the typical Indian in the US. My response is, you have forgotten something, or at least you didn’t mention it in the article. What about the Native Americans?

    Karma and Immigration to America, April 11, 2018

    The issue is that this “going to America for bread and butter” thing from a big-picture perspective doesn’t have anything to stand on, only because white people came here from problems back home, similar to Indians’ problems, to settle here, taking away the land, the resources, and the right to be from the Native Americans, who were here first.

    America is formed on such ill-gotten gains to start with. I think that what starts on the wrong foot ends with the wrong foot (look at the present administration’s stand on immigration as an example of a direction of wrong thinking, wrong action continuing to move forward). If it were in my ability to right the wrongs, people would be migrating back to their ancestral lands or to other lands that would welcome them, and giving the land, resources, and the right to be back to the Native Americans. If this came to pass, I would do my best to immigrate to Bhāratavarṣa, as there is no other place for a person like me with my employment profile.

    Indians are able to do what they do in America only because white people made it possible. Anyone immigrating to America is occupying the lands just like the white people have for centuries. How is this to be reconciled? My feeling is that Indians would be seen as just another group of people who come here to occupy the lands, enabled by the white people whose ancestors started it all. What happens if an Indian joins the National Guard or a State Guard, and he is sent to put down a Native American protest, like the Dakota pipeline protests? Then, he has his hands dirty just like the white people, like mine (because I’m mostly white).

    When Europeans came to America, they were able to impose themselves as a relatively united group on the Native Americans. However, as this is a civilizational issue, this time, it is anyone who thinks western and speaks a non-Indic language imposing themselves on Indians that is a major concern. This time, Indians won’t be physically displaced like the Native Americans, but they will be mentally and civilizationally displaced. This is a step beyond colonization, where the only official language would be English (and it would be impossible to find a decent teacher of any of the Indic languages within 162 km around you), Sārīs and other Indian clothes would become funny-looking relics, the GOI continues to be a British-style boot-jack government with no foreseeable chance of changing back to some Indic form of governance for at least 500 years, and everything is done caucasian-style. Make everyone take skin/bleaching treatments and dye their hair, and you won’t be able to tell whether you are watching a video of a group of people talking in Dillī or in London. That is what is coming to you.

    So, I make this point to humbly ask you to consider two choices before you. Think of the karma you incur by doing the above. Think of the burning of past karma by staying home and doing what you can to change Bhāratavarṣa for the better.



    • IPC
      Aug 03, 2019 @ 18:48:10

      Yes, there is missing thing – any reference to the original owners of this land, native Americans – in this article; and also a tinge of pure opportunism on the part of those who wish to migrate to this land of native American. See, a full circle has come with Donald Trump trying to obstruct the immigration to US of the so called foreigners, from the starting point when native Americans has similarly tried to obstruct the settling of White people. Where is the morality; the law; the human rights; the fairness; the equity? It is all ‘might is right’ plus hypocricy. Perhaps India was lucky (unlike South Africans) or perhaps Indians were sheer countless in number that the White (British) people decided to leave India in 1947; imagine in case Indians were as few as native Americans in US! Where are concience keepers of humanity and why do they not stand by the side of unfortunate native Americans? Shall we say, all those who seek to settle in the land of native Americans are opportunist vultures trying to pounce on their share ,,,, and, mind you, these vultures include people of great fame, not less than Einstein, Fermi, Niels Bohr and many more like them. I agree and sympathise with you on this score.



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