America, the Land of Dreams: Bliss or Abyss?

Basanta Bhandari, Pushpa Thapaliya & Raja Jha

 

Kathmandu | ‘Rekha Thapa flew to America with a baby plan.’

Such headlines about the popular Nepali actress frequently made the news towards the end of 2023. Her movie ‘Upahaar,’ which she produced and acted in, was scheduled for release on Falgun 25 (Mid-March). However, she left for America to have a child, even abandoning the movie she had invested crores in.

Rekha is not just a famous actress but also an active politician. As a central member of the fifth largest party Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), she had even contested the recent parliamentary elections from Morang Constituency No. 3 against Sunil Sharma, although she lost by a large margin. She had also vied for the position of General Secretary in her party but was unsuccessful. Known for delivering speeches on patriotism, she still chose to make her child a foreign citizen by giving birth in America.

Another example is Narayan Shrestha, a journalist and presenter. He had a name and a career. BBC’s ‘Sajha Sawal’ was one of his popular shows. But he suddenly left everything behind and moved to America, where he settled and worked.

Despite his fame and success in journalism, Shrestha migrated to America, worrying about his child’s future. As a result, the current generation hardly knows his name. Like him, countless Nepalis are leaving the present for their children’s future by migrating to America.

Rekha Thapa and Narayan Shrestha are just examples. The number of Nepalis going abroad, especially to America, for their and their children’s better future is increasing daily. Consequently, the number of Nepalis giving birth to children in America is also rising.

According to the National Census 2021 published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepalis from various districts who went to America and Canada gave birth to 676 children.

These children born in America and Canada will no longer be Nepali citizens; they will be granted citizenship by their birth countries.

Bagmati Province Leads in Childbirth
The increasing allure of America for Nepalis can also be attributed to the services and facilities available there. Just this Baisakh (April-May) month alone, 28 Nepalis went to America for the first time, while 31 went there repeatedly, according to the Department of Foreign Employment.

However, data shows that Bagmati Province tops the list of Nepalis giving birth in America, according to the 2021 census. Kathmandu and Lalitpur districts, in particular, have the highest number of children born to Nepali parents who went to America.

Searching for Freedom...
Political analyst Hari Sharma, who studied in America and returned, says Nepalis migrate to America and other countries in search of freedom. "America is also synonymous with freedom. It's a vast country with diverse languages and communities. Once there, no one asks where you're from or what caste you belong to. This quest for freedom has led to an increasing number of Nepalis going to America," he explains.

Dismissing reasons like political disillusionment and lack of opportunities as mere excuses, Sharma says, "While opportunities exist in Nepal, the environment to excel further may be better there. From the outside, America appears beautiful, but its inner ugliness is not visible, causing Nepalis to be mesmerized by its dream, like moths drawn to a flame."

He adds that Nepalis are now leaving the country, much like the earlier trend of migrating from villages to cities, and the country's politicians are to blame for this.

According to the table above, Nepal ranks second among the top 10 Asian countries receiving DV visas. Statistics from the US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs for 2023 show that 3,808 Nepalis received the DV.

Risking Lives to Reach America
Political analyst Hari Sharma's views are echoed by anthropologist Dambar Chemjong. "If America were to grant visas to all Nepalis, no one would want to stay here, even though these are the same people who get riled up when India encroaches on our border," he says, referring to the so-called patriots who apply for the DV lottery.

Chemjong, who studied in America, says the melting pot society there, which incorporates the best cultures from around the world, is an attractive destination not just for Nepalis but globally.

He says Nepalis are drawn to America for education, job opportunities, and consumer facilities. While education has always been a primary reason for Nepalis to go to America, it remains a top priority. According to statistics released by the US Embassy in 2022/23, 1,057,188 students are currently studying in America.

"Everyone wants to go to a better place after leaving home, which is why America is the preferred choice," Chemjong explains.

As a result, Nepalis use various routes to reach America – sometimes through donkeys (human traffickers), sometimes on visit visas, sometimes posing as artists or businesspeople. During the journey, some get lost in jungles in Panama, while others fall victim to robbers. Despite enduring immense hardships, the number of Nepalis returning from the American border has been increasing yearly.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics, as mentioned by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), show a yearly rise in the number of Nepalis apprehended. While the number of Nepalis attempting to enter America illegally dipped slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been increasing again since 2023.

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