How the F1 visa will save one student from being deported to India

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After nine months, there still hasn’t been any news on the approval for the change of Mhatre’s immigration status to an F1 student. Source: Pareen Mhatre

Pareen Mhatre, 20, moved to the US from India when she was only four months old. She’s lived in the US all her life, but is now at risk of being deported to India, if she does not get an F1 visa soon.

Her predicament lies with her status as a Documented Dreamer, a young immigrant who has grown up in the US as child dependents of long-term visa holders without a clear path to citizenship.

That excludes the University of Iowa student from many proposed solutions for Dreamers. Like Mhatre, they were young men and women who came to the US as children and do not hold lawful immigration status. The difference is they qualify for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. When it passes, it would protect them from being deported.

By virtue of her parents’ documented status, Mhatre is not considered a Dreamer. When she turns 21, she’ll no longer be “a dependent” and could be deported to India, a country she knows nothing about. Currently, she’s waiting for news on her application to convert her dependent status visa to the F1 visa, which is reserved for international students. If approved, she would be able to escape self-deportation — until her programme is over.

All Mhatre wants to do is give back to Iowa — her home for two decades — as a biomedical engineer. Below we speak to this Documented Dreamer on what it feels like to have her status pending for so long and what needs to change.

Walk us through being a Documented Dreamer and what challenges you face.

My status as a Documented Dreamer has prohibited me from obtaining internships. While I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at the BioMOST Lab at the University of Iowa, I’ve been unable to gain professional experience which is crucial for my field. 

Like other Documented Dreamers, I only wish to give back to my community. However, it’s difficult to do so, since those in my situation aren’t able to apply for internships. 

This has set me back in comparison to my peers and has made the American Dream seemingly unattainable. In order to ensure that Documented Dreamers are treated fairly in the immigration process, members of the Improve the Dream (like myself) advocate for the number of changes that can be implemented by Congress. 

For example, freezing the age of children for when our parents’ employers file for permanent residency, get work authorization at an early age, and overall, create a safe pathway for citizenship for Documented Dreamers. This is similar to the proposed DACA immigration bill (Dream and Promise Act 2021) or the America’s CHILDREN Act. 

What made you choose biomedical engineering at the University of Iowa?

The experience of growing up on the University of Iowa’s campus while my parents were first students and then employees, included regular visits to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). Like any child, I was initially intimidated but soon became fascinated with the medicine and technology that came with this field. 

In addition, my family also has a history of heart disease so the mechanisms of the human heart and how it works also sparked an interest for me.

What do you like most about the US?

This country has given my parents and me so much. My favourite part of the US is the people I’ve met and connected with. I’ve met some of the kindest and most welcoming people in Iowa City, my home of 20 years. 

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Iowa has been Pareen Mhatre’s home for nearly 20 years, but she is now at risk of being deported to India if she does not get an F1 visa soon. Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images via AFP

What have been your most memorable and non-academic experiences in Iowa thus far?

One of my most memorable experiences in Iowa is participating in annual activities. Such as attending our local Jazz Fest, Arts Fest, going apple-picking in the fall, watching the fireworks in downtown Iowa City, and anything that allows me to engage within the community. 

What’s the local food like? 

The best part about the food in Iowa is related to the hospitality. Iowans are some of the kindest and most caring people you will ever meet. 

What advice do you have for international students or Documented Dreamers to apply for the F1 visa?

My advice for Documented Dreamers would be that going from a dependent visa status to a student visa can be risky. But it’s your only option in order to avoid self-deportation

I realise that for a young adult it’s a lot to carry on your shoulders but I’m hopeful that Congress will take action and Improve the Dream’s hard work will pay off.