‘For Here or to Go?’ Brings H-1B Visa Holders’ Anxieties to the Big Screen

By Sameer Rao Mar 27, 2017

Like the late Sriniavas Kuchibhotla and many other immigrants in the tech sector before him, Rishi S. Bhilawadikar was employed on an H-1B visa, which allows companies to sponsor workers in specialized fields. As he tells NBC News in an interview published yesterday (March 26), his frustration at waiting for a green card and facing rejection from companies who wouldn’t sponsor visas compelled him to write his first screenplay. That screenplay became a movie, "For Here or To Go?" which screened at film festivals throughout 2015 and debuts in select theaters Friday (March 31).

"I have been in this line [for a green card] for 12 years," says Bhilawadikar, who also runs the "Stuff Desis Like" blog, about his own waiting period. "It is not just that the process is expensive and long, it’s that you are completely beholden to your employer. You cannot get promoted, you cannot start your own company, and if you lose your job or the company shuts down, you basically have to pack up and leave the country in two days."

Those experiences made their way into the film, which stars Indian actor Ali Fazal ("Furious 7") as engineer Vivek Pandit. As demonstrated in the trailer above, "For Here or To Go?" follows Pandit and other H-1B-holding Indian friends as they anxiously navigate rejection by Silicon Valley tech firms who cannot support their visas, family who want them to come back to India despite the risk of possible denied reentry and the ever-present risk of deportation. The film’s name is revealed in a scene where one of Pandit’s friends mistakes a restaurant server’s basic question—"for here or to go?"—for a far more existential one.

The film also touches on the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment that affects even comparatively privileged, H-1B-eligible immigrants like Bhilawadikar. Referencing Kuchibhotla’s killing, Bhilawadikar discusses a scene where Pandit talks to a Sikh business owner whose friend was killed in a hate crime. "It’s interesting people are calling that scene ‘timely’ now," he says. "For me, it is very heartbreaking." Bhilawadikar adds that he took inspiration from two other attacks on Sikhs. One in 2011 where two elderly Sikh men were killed in Elk Grove, California, and the 2012 massacre of six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin by White supremacist Wade Michael Page. "These things had happened before and there are these ignorances [sic], but I was hoping we would move on," says Bhilawadikar. "It is so sad to see it happening again."

"For Here or To Go?" was directed by Rucha Humnabadkar ("Arranged Marriage") and also stars Melanie Chandra ("Code Black") and Rajit Kapur ("Purani Jeans"). Check out the film’s website to see if it will screen at a theater near you.