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If India is so fab & America is in decay, why the long Green Card lines?


Recently, Jay Kotak of , referred to the US as a ‘country in decay’, because he witnessed 5-hour waits at ‘s Logan Airport. Anyone travelling this summer will tell you of general carnage. The average wait, if you are lucky and your flight hasn’t been cancelled — is 3 hours at London’s Heathrow. I endured a 12-hour delay and two cancellations at Oslo Airport. Once the Norwegians are falling apart, then you know that the world is in trouble.

Interestingly, our Indian airports have no such complaints. Some feel it is because our airports have become more efficient. Others argue our airports don’t see nearly as much volume as a US or European hub. Whatever the reason, there aren’t hundreds of holidaymakers sleeping on the floor of Mumbai or Delhi airport, as has become a common sight in Europe this summer.

Kotak’s argument seems to be that this, coupled with infrastructure chaos, dirtier cities, inflation everywhere, crime etc., India is a better place to live in. This, as is the case with people with much time on their hands, has sparked off a huge debate on social media, and the debate is as old as time: ‘Is India or the US better?’ NRIs started listing India’s unending problems, and Indian patriots went off on their ‘India is best’ rant.

The America supporters said, ‘If America is so bad, look at the line for a green card.’ The India supporters said, ‘Look at all the dollar billionaires India has created this past decade.’ Both sides seem to be missing Kotak’s point. Till liberalisation, most Indians migrated to the US for a better life. Literally – a nicer house, a bigger car, things. In 2022, however traffic-filled, chaotic, potholed and mad, India has things. Probably everything you would want in the US – except a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder burger.

Migration in 2022 is, therefore, no longer just about a better life. Take two sets of tech couples, both, say, working for an MNC. One lives in a 2-BHK apartment in a plush Bangalore highrise, and the other in a plush highrise in Newport, New Jersey. I’d argue that the life of the former couple, with house help, perhaps a car and a driver, is easier. Access to Netflix, global cuisine, fancy brands won’t change in either city. Nor would working with a global team and having access to the latest Apple gadgets or reading the New York Times.

Things, therefore, are the same in both places. The Bangalore couple would probably save more money. A far cry from an India when American relatives would bring foreign chocolates, Casio watches and unavailable DVD box sets.

If anything, post pandemic, successful Indians living for a long time in big American cities like New York and San Francisco with a big homelessness problem, now say they sometimes feel unsafe at night in public transport. A cab driver in San Francisco told me, most nights when driving his Uber, he has to avoid gang shootouts and his car has been broken into, more than once. By this logic, hordes of Indians should be heading home, right?

And yet, the demand to get a green card is more than ever.

This is where Kotak misses the point of modern migration. It’s no longer about a better place to live. The Indian upper-middle classes have a way better life than the middle classes in the US or Britain. Modern migration is about intellectual freedom. About a workplace where people are free to think and thrive and not worry whether their boss is backstabbing them.

They are leaving because they don’t want a political workplace, or an opaque one where people’s agendas are hard to figure out and no one is saying what they mean. Where their ideas are stifled. Where speaking your mind will get you into trouble. They are not leaving because they want an Audi and a washing machine. They are leaving because they can crack a joke without the boss fearing a mob turning up an hour later.

In the old days, you felt comfortable in India because you could say and do what you wanted in a world gone PC. Now in India, you drive the Audi and shut up.



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