Soundarya Balasubramani in collaboration with Sameer Khedekar, an immigration lawyer, released her second book titled Unshackled on Saturday, July 22 evening at the Plug and Play Tech Center, in Sunnyvale, CA.

The co-authors met in 2021 when Sameer helped Soundarya file an H1B Visa for transfer.

“I liked him immediately,” said Balasubramani. “He was one of those lawyers who felt like talking to another friend. We debated on the idea of writing a book in December 2021, but it got shoved as other things came up. In mid-2022, I approached him again with the idea of writing a book.” Soundarya self-published her first book Admitted about studying in US universities, in August 2020.

Unshackled Book Launch

The book launch was preceded by sessions on topics ranging from EB-1 Visa applications to the logistics of moving to Canada. Attendees included 250 high-skilled immigrants, immigrant company founders, O-1/EB-1 Visa holders, and lawyers from sponsoring firms-Syndesus, Inc., Deel, and Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP.

The sessions offered advice on how to achieve immigration goals. Lawyers leading the sessions offered information about Canada’s work permit rules versus the U.S. and shorter timelines for obtaining Canadian Permanent Residencies (PR). They covered incentives being offered in Canada for high-tech workers joining the Canadian economy, and cross-border travel between the U.S. and Canada. Discussions also focused on the less intense questioning by U.S. border agents post the Trump administration and options available after a layoff in the U.S. versus Canada. 

US Immigration hurdles and hardships

The formal launch event showcased a discussion on the future of immigration policy between Doug Rand, a former Obama White House expert on immigration policy, and Prof. Chuck Garcia of Columbia University. Rand mentioned that during his tenure, entrepreneurs from the Bay Area and other regions requested he “fix immigration.”

In their discussion on outdated immigration laws and where they’re headed, Rand and Garcia alluded to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced during the Obama administration that did not become a law, due to a lack of bipartisan support. 

“More than 30 years ago, in 1990, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that set the basic architecture of the U.S.’s current immigration system,” said Rand. He compared current immigration policy to outdated software, adding that it is “trying to apply patches to a system that hasn’t really changed in its core architecture for too long due to congressional inaction.”

However, there was good news added Rand. “Over time, there’s enough flex in the joints that while we can’t fix something soon, we can make things better in various areas like policy changes, speed of processing, and via other innovative ideas.”

He urged attendees to “embrace your autonomy. People have more autonomy than they realize,” he said, given the deficiencies in immigration policy and lack of clarity when lawyers unpack legal jargon.

Professor Garcia complimented Unshackled as a great how-to guide for immigrants trying to navigate the complex US immigration maze, especially with its emotional stories of real people with action items.

How to unshackle

Balasubramani stated that everyone she interviewed for Unshackled found the U.S. immigration system complex or frustrating. “There are many caveats that you don’t know, and when you know about them, it’s too late to do something at that point.”

The authors portray U.S. immigration as a tool and the U.S. as a means to an end. But it’s not the only option available that high-tech workers have to settle for they say.

As an immigrant on a visa, Balasubramani wanted to understand how she could build her own company in the U.S. and not be employed by someone else. The U.S. is one of the best places to scale a company, take an idea to execution, raise money, and get paid well, but the ‘insanely outdated’ immigration system poses challenges, said Balasubramani.

Referring to her book, Balasubramani says, “Unshackled is a bandaid on a very, very big wound- the outdated immigration system. Sameer and I  want to give people the best chance they have to legally immigrate to the U.S., to work, study, start companies, and to settle down or leave if they want.”

However, Balasubramani does not think the U.S. is for everyone.

“You can go to another country that’s more friendly with easier and faster work permits for spouses and permanent residency procedures. I just want to give people the most updated and most friendly guide possible on immigration. So that it doesn’t have to be so complex and abstract when they look at it.”

Photography by Jayanth Mohana Krishna and Shreyas Shankar

Shalini Kathuria Narang is a Silicon Valley based software professional and freelance journalist. She has written and published extensively for several national and international newspapers, magazines...