So You Want to Work in the US? Let the Green Card Maze Begin...

BlogHer Original Post

For many, the dream of coming to America in promise of a brighter future is a strong one. The country is a melting pot and from the early days of Ellis Island to now, people come from all walks, races, and countries to contribute to this country. For some, that promise is denied because of the inability to secure a green card.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a woman named Sandy* who spent years and tens of thousands of dollars navigating a complicated maze of rules and regulations in her attempt to secure a green card. I first reached out to her after the news about the re-do of the green card lottery was taking place. I simply wanted to better understand what someone must do if they want to work in the United States legally and for an extended time period. My intimate conversation with her simply made my head spin and my ire raise at the irony of how the system works (and also the ways in which it is broken). It is my intention to share parts of her personal story with you so you can better understand it too and contribute to this important conversation. If you'd like to see the dizzying and official rules and regulations, you can do so on this government website.

green card

Credit Image: spierzchala on Flickr

Sandy came to the US from her native Australia to attend college at a prominent New York school nine years ago. With a passion for film she knew that the US was the only way for her to learn and pursue her passion because of the nature of the film industry in her homeland. The student visa was easy... it is what followed that illustrates how challenging it can be for someone with true intentions to fully contribute to the US to actually do so. We all know that illegal immigrants abound, but to do it legally and honorably, that can be a challenge.

To say that this woman has jumped through hoops to pursue her career is an understatement. By the end of our conversation I could count at least a dozen or more different visas she had to apply for, moves she had to make, and rules she had to follow. Those are only the ones that came to mind during our brief chat, I am certain there is more she had to endure on the journey.

For instance, after graduating from university, she was able to work as a student on a one year visa extension. While she attempted to receive sponsorship from her employer, her career was just beginning so the company was not willing to invest the time or expense to go down involved path. As a result, she had to return home to Australia for a number of months. With the help of legal counsel she was able to obtain an additional six month extension to stay in the country with work restrictions. Then the games began again. Because she travels extensively for her job, she is constantly being subjected to the secondary unit of immigrations. This means that rather than buzz through immigrations, she is automatically pulled aside and can be detained as long as the authorities desire. Because immigration is in essence limbo (meaning the laws of neither country are in effect), this can mean a long wait. Once you have been sent through the secondary unit you are always required to do so in the future. So now even though she has a permanent green card, she needs to factor in the time and inconvenience of this added step each time she travels for personal or business reasons.

Following a series of short-term visas, leaving the country, returning again, overseas working visas, sponsored visas through her alma mater, overstaying some visas, and then starting all over again she was feeling desperate after nine years of this dance. Fortunately for Sandy this was about the same time she met her soon to be fiancee - a friend helped her get a fiancee visa. After a period of time she and her boyfriend signed on the dotted line in a private marriage consisting only of a state representative and witness. Almost instantly all her immigration problems vanished. With permanent resident status suddenly her credit score increased, she could obtain lending sources, and could work any job she pleased. Tens of thousands of legal fees later her freedom was granted by a several hundred dollar marriage certificate. At present they still have not announced their union to family or friends because they want to do it in a more meaningful way.

Sandy shared her frustrations with how the different systems don't really reward people who want to work hard and truly contribute to make the US a better place. While the green card lottery does give people (who wouldn't be able to obtain permanent status any other way) a chance to become legal citizens, it is still screened and limited by country. The easiest way is through marriage which is why marriage fraud is such a problem and makes immigration nearly impossible for lesbian and gay couples.

Throughout it all, Sandy is not bitter. In fact for all she's been through she is really quite upbeat. Yet, she remains frustrated and disturbed that in the end her easiest and only way to stay in this country was through marriage not what she could contribute. Fortunately for her, she was able to do so. Most importantly she could do so with someone she loves and wants to spend her life with no matter what country's soil lay beneath their feet.

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments...

*Sandy is not her real name. Other identifying details have also been altered to protect privacy.

Paula Gregorowicz, The Intuitive Intelligence™ Coach
Download the Free Report: Your Own Uniqueness: The Path to Purpose, Prosperity, and Playfulness at Intuitive Intelligence Coaching

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