EAD-- Getting my work authorization at age 21

This has had the single greatest impact on my worldview.
For so long it felt like I was forced to sit on the sidelines and I couldn’t have something I wanted so badly. This means that even though I've lived in the US my whole life, unlike my peers who started working at 16, I’m starting at 21.

Couldn’t you volunteer? No, even startups get audited and they don’t want to hire someone who can’t get paid. In legal terms, you are taking the job away from someone who could get paid.

Why didn’t you switch to F1? This would lead to a lifetime of difficulty trying to work in the US on an H1B; I didn’t switch out of my H4 status when I had already been waiting for so long. My family’s been on the greencard waitlist for 13 years.

Why didn’t you leave the country to get work experience or drop out of college? Covid. I seriously considered dropping out but the degree meant a lot to my family and in retrospect I value the depth of information I learned.

Did you at least learn a lot by building projects? Yes, I joined tech accelerators, lived in hacker houses, transferred schools, won hackathons, and worked at 2 research labs. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for good paid work experience. Your manager has a vested interest in mentoring you and as a result you have more motivation to keep going. Working with a team of people who I respect and can learn from is my deepest desire.

There have been a lot of strong emotions on this topic. Not being able to work is only part of what it meant for me and my family. When I finally got it a month before my 21st bday it felt like divine intervention. If I hadn’t have gotten it, my current status would be expired and I would’ve had to leave the US in September taking a leave of absence in my senior year of college in order to reapply for a visa which may or may not get rejected. Yes, this has happened to people in the past.

If there’s anyone else out there on an H4 born in India living in the US, let me know if I can help.

Thanks to Chris, Evelyn, and Sarah for reading drafts of this.