Oct. 11, 2016: Ayaz Sadal stepped out of Allama Iqbal International Airport and into the familiar haze of Lahore, Pakistan. The short drive along the runway’s edge was all that could separate him from his family whom he had not seen in years.
Ayaz is the middle child in his family with an older brother, Zia Sadal, and younger sister, Sadaf Sadal.
Leaving home to study in America, Ayaz would receive his masters degree in Public Administration from Western Kentucky University and would continue his education with a second masters degree in Business Administration from Cumberland University.
For the first time, in 2016 there were over one million international students studying in Universities across the US according to the Institute of International Education, a ten percent increase from 2015. For Pakistani students studying in the US, there was more than a 14% increase in enrollment since 2015.
Following graduation, Ayaz applied for the H1B visa lottery but was denied; he remained working in the US under the OPT (Optional Practical Training) program for international students with F1 visas.
The OPT program allows students to live and work in the US for one to three years post graduation.
Ayaz spoke of rumors that Trump planned to shorten OPT to six months. “You’re talking about Saudi students, you’re talking about Irani students, you’re talking about students from the Middle East, you’re talking about students from China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh,” Ayaz said referring to the international students affected by the possible change, “all of that money goes to your economy. Directly goes to your economy.”
“On average you get a job 3 months after graduation, so how much are you going to work? For 3 months another 3 months and that’s it? Who would, invest their money in such future?” Ayaz said.
For Ayaz, coming to the United States meant immersing himself into a more diverse culture and to invest in a future that would allow him to do big things with his life. “I have the same right as any other american, as any other britisher, as any other canadian, or australian or anyone in the world, to achieve something bigger. That would be beneficial not for just myself, for everyone. I want to be that person,” Ayaz said.
For Ayaz, leaving home was a difficult task.
“It’s a big sacrifice, for a person like us to take, just because we want to achieve big dreams, just because we have higher goals, just because we wanted to be someone,” Ayaz said.
For Ayaz there is one thing more important than his American dream.
While home on a break from classes in 2012, Ayaz was introduced to his now wife, Ayesha Sadal.
“If I fall in love with somebody at this point of time it’s gonna be her,” Ayaz said, recounting his thoughts of their first meeting. “It took me about a year to propose to her.”
Seeking a job, Ayaz remained in the United States, living and working in Chicago, Illinois.
According to a survey by The Boston Consulting Group, the United States is the top choice for foreign workers with 42% of those surveyed saying that the US is a place they would want to move to.
Ayaz did not originally plan to marry this year.
“You never know where you end up,” he said, recalling a conversation with his father encouraging him to go ahead with the wedding plans knowing that it may be the last time his family is together under one roof.
“I see my parents getting old, I see my brother, sister getting married, so everything is happening too fast at this time for me,” Ayaz said, explaining his decision to agree with his family’s plan for a triple wedding in mid-November of this year.
The bond Ayaz shares with his siblings is deep despite being separated across continents.
“She used to hold my finger in her hand and I can still see that whole memory of her,” Ayaz said of his sister, Sadaf, who planned to move with her husband to Chicago shortly after the wedding. “Now when I see her being all grown up, getting married, that just you know tells me that I miss the 25, 26 years growing up with her,”
Zia Sadal planned to move to Germany with his wife Farheen after the wedding.
Both his brother, Zia, and sister, Sadaf, had marriages arranged by their parents, a common practice in Pakistani society.
Ayaz plans to return to Bowling Green in December and is still uncertain about whether his wife will be granted approval for her visa.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future,” Ayaz said. “People tend to think that life in the US, is way much more better, than anywhere else--that’s not true. It is completely on yourself, how you take it,” Ayaz said, addressing concerns that he may not be ready to take on married life in America.
“We’re going to step into this country together,” said Ayaz, who holds out hope that his prior experience abroad will help him to be a good guide for his wife.
“She has never left Pakistan before; the US is a far, far thing for her,” said Ayaz.
Ayaz described his marriage as a new start.
“Whatever I was before this, that was completely different; now it’s gonna be completely different,” Ayaz said. “I think this is going to be a turning point of my life.”
January 28, 2017: President Donald Trump makes an executive order banning refugees and citizens from 7 Muslim majority countries.
Pakistan remains off of the list.
“There’s more racial divide, there’s more hatred,” Ayaz said about the current political state in America.
“That would be my final decision to leave this country because that time it will be like 6 years for me to be in this country. And still if my wife doesn’t get a visa to live with me, then I’m done,” Ayaz said of his wife, Ayesha who remains in Pakistan awaiting her interview at the US embassy in Karachi.