- High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor and Transmigration by Amy Bhatt
In High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration, gender and women's studies scholar Amy Bhatt centers the unpaid and undervalued women's labor that sustains the circulation of Indian transnational migrant (or, transmigrant) information technology workers among different global technology hubs. Through rich ethnographic research that includes formal interviews with almost one hundred respondents, mostly women, in the understudied IT sites of Seattle, Washington, and Bangalore and Hyderabad in India, Bhatt deftly engages the complex experiences of these "embodied subjects of transnationalism" (ix) who are positioned between and across geographic locations, immigration statuses, and company affiliations. Resisting simplified characterizations that valorize or demonize temporary worker programs, Bhatt's nuanced analysis shows that Indian transnational IT workers and their spouses [End Page 177] embrace their liminality. This flexible position informs how they pursue their aspirations and claim the value of their labor while navigating the insecure conditions of the immigration, economic, and sociocultural systems within which they live and move.
Bhatt's research focuses on the gendered dimensions of the H-1B work visa program. Over the past three decades, this program has significantly increased the numbers of migrants working in the information technology sector; in 2017, over 69 percent of the H-1B visa and renewal applications were for technology-based employment. Indian IT professionals—who are primarily young, heterosexual, English-speaking, upper-caste Hindu men—constitute the vast majority of applicants for the visa. Although the H-1B visas are subject to an annual cap, the H-4 visas, which are granted to spouses and dependent children of H-1B visa holders, are not limited. Despite being allowed to migrate, these family members have generally been prevented from formally participating in the labor market. Bhatt focuses on the role that their unpaid social reproductive labor plays in transmigration, specifically through the critical figure of the transnational housewife whose caregiving work enables the cross-border migration of workers.
Bhatt begins her study in the suburbs of Seattle, a technology center developed by Boeing and Microsoft, two of the largest employers in the region and the main draws for Indian IT workers. Through a thoughtful discussion of identity and place-making, Bhatt shows that the transmigrants in her study aspire to be able to circulate among IT worksites. Obtaining citizenship becomes important in the flexibility and mobility that it enables for future opportunities and not necessarily for the sake of permanent settlement away from the homeland. These transmigrants claim their liminality, positioning themselves as ideal immigrants who can blend into local work cultures and leisure activities as well as ideal global workers who will adapt and sacrifice as needed for their employers. Through activities that form local social and professional networks such as volunteering in Indian development NGOs, they position themselves as bridge builders who, by sharing their lessons of neoliberal models of economic change, demonstrate that they are valuable to the Indian nation-state.
In the second and third chapters of her book, Bhatt directly examines how the liminality of transmigration disrupts and reinforces gendered expectations around work, marriage, and family formation, and how women actively navigate these opportunities and constraints. She begins her discussion with examples of women who obtained their own H-1B visas—an overlooked group in discussions of workers in IT industries—and delayed marriage in order to build professional and social lives in the United States. Most women in her study, including the H-1B visa holders, report a frustrating gendered discrepancy: for both women and men, IT education is a mode to improve economic opportunity, including their chances of getting married, because education and professional compatibility are increasingly seen as important matchmaking criteria. Women, however, are expected to give up their career ambitions to follow the patriarchal norms of [End Page 178] heterosexual married life. Thus, many of them become "transnational housewives" with the primary responsibility of care work as well as the reproductive labor...