What is so terrible about this country that people are jumping onto boats headed towards destinations unknown, desperate to escape the life that has been granted to them by chance, fate, and the incorrigible wrath of the Bangladeshi government?
And on the other side, the educated and wealthy (and oftentimes the not-so-wealthy), convert their parents’ hard-earned money into an education abroad, so that they may finally leave a nation godforsaken and crumbling to dust, imploding within, and then cling on to the chance of life in the West, the hemisphere of dreams, of Caucasians et al?
We are not here today to discuss why this country is so terrible; that is usually accepted as fact. With the recent stories citing how desperate, poverty-stricken denizens have been risking life and limb -- often not out of choice -- to seek “a better life,” one is forced to evaluate the current living situation that Bangladesh has forced upon us.
Let us as readers of an English daily (if you will forgive the generalisation) consider ourselves lucky to have received a proper education, to be better-off than these individuals whose faces we witness daily on the covers of newspapers and on our TV screens, grief-stricken and teary-eyed and forlorn.
But even then, our lives -- if we consider ourselves middle-class, the property-owning bourgeoisie, the spoilt layer on top of these desperadoes -- aren’t some cherry-topped ice cream sundae of pleasure.
Travelling takes up half of our lives due to traffic jams, public transport is a ridiculous mess of sweat or too expensive, the heat is close to intolerable, electricity is a luxury, not a right (though that has much improved in Dhaka), and the red tape we endure when we wish to avail public services exceeds that portrayed in a Kafkaesque narrative. So it is no surprise that we too, and our peers, seek to escape.
In 2011, someone I know went to the United States for a MBA, to seek the hackneyed “better life.” His family can only be classified as being lower-middle class, with no cushion under them, no property. He was the eldest son, with a sister breaching the “marriage age” and a brother studying in class 10. He had wanted to study engineering, but unable to get into BUET and his family incapable of affording one of the private universities, he ended up being stuck with soil sciences as a subject at DU.
Absolutely uninterested in the subject, his CGPA tanked. An intelligent student, he found interest elsewhere, mostly in finance. So an MBA, which his uncle had offered to loan him the money for (with no pressure to refund), seemed like a good idea. There was hope, and the possibility of changing the future.
But after his graduation, the employment landscape for people with immigrant status reared its ugly head. Employment opportunities for immigrants are scarce. Unemployed and desperate for a job, he went to his uncle for help, with whom he was living to save on living expenses. The uncle suggested that he do a short IT course and apply to a tech-staffing company.
The one he found was a company calling itself Peoplecorp, who claimed that they would sponsor him for an H-1B visa (a work visa which has a quota, and is given to applicants based on a lottery system). He was, of course, ecstatic.
Even though this was a big deviation from what he had studied (he had wanted to work in the financial sector), a visa that would allow him to stay in the United States and earn in dollars, which in turn would allow him to provide for his family and repay his uncle, was exactly what he had dreamt of.
But this is how the IT sector in the US works. They are filled with companies such as these which lure struggling just-graduated students with the offer of a sponsorship and promise of placement with a company. They provide a month’s worth of training and tell you, eventually, that you’ve received a job.
That doesn’t sound too bad. But there’s a catch: They would have to slightly change his CV to boost his chances. Hesitant but with his parents’ words echoing in his head (“What will you do in Bangladesh? There are no opportunities here”), he signed a contract, binding him to the company for a year. If he chose to throw in the towel before the year was over, he would have to pay a fine of a few thousand dollars.
After being placed, he was shown his CV. It had been falsified to the extent that they had added eight years’ worth of experience which would justify his $60,000 a year paycheck and, he later found out, there had also been a phone interview which Peoplecorp had fraudulently tackled by letting someone else take it in his stead.
This is how the process works, with you technically being an employer of the staffing company while essentially being a vagabond, getting fired from one company and then moving on to another. If someone is able to handle this kind of pressure, the thought of public humiliation a non-issue, their goal of staying in the States more important, then they can successfully walk down this path without it affecting their mental stability. As millions have done and continue to do.
But the person I knew wasn’t cut out for this. It eventually led to his mental breakdown, with him turning completely against his uncle, becoming extremely paranoid, his self-confidence plummeting to oblivion, exhibiting suicidal tendencies. He is currently admitted to a hospital undergoing psychiatric treatment. His future is bleak, his career, possibly ruined beyond repair.
This kind of mentality and desperation isn’t unique to the States. It’s true for any first world country that has severely restricted their immigration policies. In the UK, I personally witnessed millions of faux students, who continued to enroll into course after course, elongating their stay, so that they could reach the ten-year benchmark which would allow them to apply for permanent residency.
The problem is two-pronged. We aren’t doing enough for our citizens when they’re here, and countries which would have tired of the steady influx of international students who have manipulated the system, with a populace which is becoming increasingly xenophobic because of the media and the general culture clash, no longer welcome hard-working, law-abiding internationals with open arms.
Until the country and government choose to put infrastructures in place which would prevent individuals from crumbling under the pressure of financial distress, distress which they have inherited from their parents, the presence of these stories will continue to persist. It has become imperative that people who are born not into wealth, but into abject poverty and impossible situations, are allowed the freedom to break from these shackles and fend for themselves, and their family, if they choose to do so.