I’ll pick up this post exactly from where I left if off on LinkedIn:
Sometime last year, a small little envelope arrived in my mailbox. It was thin, light, unassuming. Its physical appearance not at all representative of the freedom it was about to unleash in my life.
The card inside the envelope goes by many acronyms: EB1A, GC, PR etc. (If any of these sound familiar to you, you might want to hear what I’ve got to say).
Since this news has traveled around a bit in my professional network, I have been getting many inquiries into how I managed this. I want this post to serve as the one stop shop for everything I want to say on the topic. For all the noisy discourse around legal immigration to the US, I invite you to focus on (and never forget) just 2 things:
The US immigration system is clogged and as such designed to block legal immigrants from India and China. Death by a thousand degrees is the general going theme. Feelings run high in all camps, the opposition, supporters and the casualties of this system. In this scenario, most legal immigrants are stuck between a rock and a hard place. And EB1A is increasingly becoming a way out. This is reflected in the fact that many borderline charlatans have popped up on the internet: “guides” who will “coach” you through the process, media publications who will boost your SEO, “influencers” who will teach you how to game social media. All for a fine fee ofcourse.
This is unnecessary. Firstly I would refer you to this excellent and realistic primer put together by my good friend Nikunj Kothari on what this visa category is all about. Next skip the charlatans, save your money and instead pay an amazing immigration lawyer (like Wells Wakefield).
Secondly, as the “influencers” keep deceiving the boundary of what qualifies for EB1A, so will the adjudicators become more random/unstable in the approval of this visa. This ever-increasing artificial randomness (like the one that already exists for H1B, both for approval and sadly even vetted renewals) is imposed on us by 2 groups of politicians. Someone sitting in a room detached and disconnected from the outcomes of their decisions locks a bunch of people in a quagmire of misaligned incentives. If any real progress is to be made for all the parties involved (opposition, supporter, casualty), it must be made by attacking that artificial randomness. Until then, even if some “influencers” slip “up” the cracks by whatever means (like making it their life’s mission to game the existing sorry-ass of a “system”) we are all mostly stuck in a lose-lose situation.
I personally do not want to be party to B.O.N.K-ing (Brevity Overshadowing Nuanced Knowledge) or RADSHaM-ing (Rapid Attention Demanding Simplified Hyperbolic Message)- (all fun acronyms concocted for me by chatGPT and amazing alternate names for social media :D). So, below is the real scoop on how I found myself with an EB1A GC.
A Rebuttal for the Extrovert Ideal
I am not going to waste words here on explaining how hard it is to qualify for an EB1A visa. A simple google search and the top few results should make that abundantly clear. What is not clear though is that to get there it is necessary to take non-obvious bets. When you take these bets, there is no guarantee that it will work out. By its very definition taking a risk means giving it all, sweat and tears without knowing whether its going to play out.
My generation has something extra, a special salt shaker on the inevitable scars that one will accumulate while taking a risk. Its the constant blast of shameless promotion on social media.
On any given day, at any point of time in history, it is hard enough to find out where the real value proposition lies. To create value and then to capture it. This is hard enough. Add to this the constant din of hyperbole from “influencers” who just can’t stop talking on social media and we suddenly find ourselves living in a communal FOMO induced hysteria. This situation is rooted not only in engagement greedy social media algorithms but also in the Extrovert Ideal : “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight”. I suppose every generation has had its salt shaker – print media, tv advertising etc. Social media takes all of that to a steroidal next level.
Still the R in “IRL” hasn’t changed. Creating value is still extremely hard and requires obsession, discipline, focus and risk taking. So if you do find yourself on that path, how do you maintain focus? Where should you spend your time? Building vs. distributing? Is distribution enough? Many “influencers” think so.
But then, what happens when you are focused on building? Chasing value. Balancing on that tightrope of focus while survival risk thanks to immigration and ADHD induced self promotion leaps up at you from every corner? When you find yourself out of energy and time for participating in this frenzy because you spent it all on surviving the tight rope.
For a long time nothing. Stone cold silence in the face of gut wrenching doubt.
And then something changes:
From the moment my partner heard about the EB1A program, he knew we were a match made in heaven. We did a few profile evaluations with a few lawyers and one of them, Wells Wakefield decided to take up my case on a success fee basis, i.e. he would get paid only if my application was approved. He thought my profile had a great chance. I didn’t fully digest this enthusiasm or confidence at the time but the deal was too good to pass. The EB1A visa needs you to meet 3 criteria at the minimum to be considered for approval. Over the 3 months that we worked on our application, we discovered that I actually met 6 of them. It doesn’t stop there. In about a month’s time a bunch of spectacularly esteemed people had signed my endorsement letters for the USCIS. Going against somewhat conventional EB1A application wisdom, Wells submitted my application with premium processing and in 11 days it was approved. It doesn’t stop there. I had my green card in my mailbox in 5 months. Even my lawyer was amazed at the speed of execution and he later mused that this was one of the fastest green card processes he has ever seen in his career.
It has taken me quite a long time to digest this, to tell the background processor of immigration in my brain to shut down.
This is the good part. That small little part which one calls happiness. A “the dots connected” moment. What were the dots?
Waking up 3 Giants
Deep learning algorithms have changed the fields of computer vision and natural language processing. These algorithms have a massive appetite for data. And who has massive amounts of data represented on the internet?
Anyone who has built ML models which interact with the real world daily, quickly runs into the limitations of the answer to that question. What about the under-represented majority (often incorrectly labeled minority) use cases which are not well represented on the internet? How to make ML models work for them? (This question is going to become even more relevant in the new era kickstarted by chatGPT).
This under-represented majority has another name. The Long Tail. The Long Tail is notoriously hard to model. Making ML models which are inherently built for the represented, also work for the under-represented requires a lot of expertise and creativity.
I essentially found myself in this position early on in my career. A senior experienced engineer had tinkered around with a classical language modeling technique to do this. I was tasked with scaling this tinkering and seeing if it stood that test. The one of Global Scale that is. As I worked to scale this technique for languages and regions that fell in the long tail, integrating location and speech signals seamlessly in a privacy conscious way to improve the intelligibility of long tail words, it seemed to beat every test it was offered.
Now here’s the fun part. In some review by a powerful conservative government (1st giant), it was flagged and put under export control. (“Lets stop the entire thing”, the classic way conservative regulation deals with what it doesn’t understand). The whole platform could operate cross-border except for this little module whose bits and bytes would not be allowed to cross the optical fiber lines beyond the physical border of the country. Yes- the digital bits and bytes are being treated like physical goods here.
In an internal report (2nd giant), it was found that this model was being used 35 times every second every day. Let that sink in. 35 times every second every day. This kind of “engagement” would give many “product” folks an orgasm. (Also, so much for the infrequent long tail).
Kudos to my lawyer Wells Wakefield for understanding the full legal and economic impact of this work and adding that to my petition (for the 3rd Giant).
The Big Picture
If you survived this long into the post, I want you to click on the link of the paper, the core language modeling technique which provided a systematic way to deal with the long tail. I didn’t share this link simply to sound credible or to throw around jargon.
Among the motley crew of authors on that paper who have done phenomenal work in NLP, 2 names went on to have a disproportionate impact on the financial landscape of America. And then one of them went on to have an even more disproportionate impact on the political landscape of America. The king maker behind Donald Trump. There is an extremely good chance that his life’s work, both political and otherwise, in some way or another, has impacted you directly.
The simple, unassuming nature of that 1992 paper, belies the power and the genius of (the) Mr-Hyde-of-Ren-Tech. If his political beliefs had their way, a person like me would never have been able to carry on his intellectual legacy and bring it to the present. No one on my team who worked on making this idea live and breathe would have been able to do so if the immigration system was cast in the mold of those political beliefs.
This is the cruel irony.
Against the backdrop of a constant one-step-forward-2-steps-back cadence of politicians and their immigration policies, the world actually moves forward because of builders.
It is the mark of true builders that all the esteemed people who provided me endorsement letters for my USCIS petition believe in the values of privacy over fame. As much as I dislike it, I refrain from citing them lest they be unduly flooded with such requests in the future. This group includes but is not limited to a phenomenal self-made entrepreneur and venture capitalist, a founding CEO of one of the largest and youngest media houses in India (its a she btw ;)), an ML researcher who had worked directly with Geoffrey Hinton way before deep learning was cool and another ML researcher who is changing the field of multimodal computing as we speak.
Again – What do you get for focusing on building value? The company of other value builders. This in and of itself is probably the best reward I have received for my work over the years.
Last but not the least, my best friend, partner and better half, Sahil. We have been together for 11 years now (married for 5 of them). Sahil was there with me every step of the way for every success (and every failure) that got me here. He has seen it all with me and been my rock through the mighty highs (and the inevitable lows that come with trying to scale “mighty” highs). Sahil managed all the moving parts and external dependencies of this process so seamlessly that we achieved this in record time while managing massive other life changes, both personal and professional.
I don’t fit the stereotype of someone who should be this successful and independent. Neither in my country of birth, nor in my country of immigration. I receive that message from both those societies regularly enough. But the world moves forward not at the behest of naysayers but because of focusing on the few that make it worth the while. Waking up to Sahil is a daily reminder of that fact.
I hope that serious and deserving EB1A applicants find some solace and then some strategies in my story. All the best!!!