So you want to move to America? Whatever for?! Unless you are in a “third world” country, chances are your health care is better, your education is better, your work schedule is better, and people are probably kinder where you already are. Considering the weakness of our dollar, our union-busting corporations that are considered people, the current political climate, our abhorrent race and gender issues, and our militarized police force, I would encourage you to think again before coming to the “Land of the Free.” However, since a lot of people are still interested in moving here, I thought I’d go over some of the most common ways to accomplish it and throw my observations into the mix. We are hard on our immigrants—legal or not—and there are several things to consider. Here are some of them, wrapped up in the most frequent ways to get into good ol ‘Merica. Keep in mind, this isn’t even about the path to citizenship. These are just things I’ve witnessed while watching people try to obtain semi-permanent residence and entrance into our work force. Citizenship is even more difficult.
Your first option is trying to get a visa through the company you work for. If you’re lucky enough to work for a corporation that offers that kind of thing, keep in mind that you basically become an indentured servant. If you lose that job, you’ll most likely lose your visa. Often times, these corporations do not pay you what your American counterparts make and they put you in subsidized housing as a “perk” rather than giving you a higher salary. This housing is necessary because you can’t afford to live in the cities around you on the wages they offer. Even though it’s a horribly misused practice, it remains one of the better options, despite the uncertainty and the golden chains. At least this way you are able to make money from day one and you’re here on a mostly legal basis, regardless of how precarious your visa may be. It is the only way that immediate legal income is a possibility, which is something to bear in mind.
Another very common practice is coming to visit and just happening to stay beyond the tourist visa, or sneaking in altogether – which is not legal and you will have a hell of a time finding work. IF you manage to find a job through your community or other means, you run the risk of losing it at the drop of a hat and have no protections or recourse should that happen. Finding housing will also be difficult. If you get hurt or sick, getting treatment is nearly impossible without immigration getting involved at some point. If you’re the victim of a crime, you can’t report it for the same reason. If you’re caught committing a crime, you’ll be imprisoned and/or deported and either way you say goodbye to the life you had here. It is a path full of anxiety and difficulty. If you go this route, it is absolutely imperative that you have a network to help with work and living situations. Most unreported work involves manual labor (construction, landscaping, etc) and it’s a good idea to have those skills before you arrive.
The most popular avenue of legal entry into the United States is marriage. Most people think it’s the quickest and easiest too. However, after having a bewildering number of friends go through this process, here are some things about it that don’t occur to the average couple, real or fake.
First things first. Document everything and get multiples. If you don’t, getting notorized copies of whatever you are missing can be time consuming and stressful. If you are coming into the country, get all of your medical exams done at home and have copies of all results. Go through your embassy to make sure everything is allowable as proof in the United States because our health care is outrageously expensive. Get multiple copies of your birth certificate and any other important documentation that you might need.
Money is key. No matter how much money you bring with you, it is probably not enough. You should expect to not be able to work for AT LEAST one year, and the evaluation and trial periods can last up to three. That’s up to three years in limbo and during that time you are not legally able to work or leave the United States for any reason. If you go home (or elsewhere) while you are trying to get a visa, or you decide to take an under the table job and are found out, the whole process is stopped and you either have to be really lucky or really lawyered up to have it restarted. Most people face denial and deportation if there’s any variance to their application. You can expect to spend thousands of dollars, even without a lawyer – and this doesn’t include the cost of supporting another person who can’t legally work for an extended amount of time. You may be surviving on just one income for years. Most people don’t realize that and plan for maybe a few months of hardship. This process is not as simple as it seems and it takes more than a marriage certificate to stay. In fact, if you are not entering the United States on a fiance visa, even if you get married, the American government may still send you back to your own country when your tourist visa expires.
Often times, whether they send you home or not depends on which country you’re originally from. You really should have an advocate or a lawyer in order to navigate the system if you are outside of your visa window, no matter what the reasons are. That said, a person from Ireland or Israel (or any other country that the United States has a love for) has a much better chance of being able to stay than someone from South America, or the Middle East. Yes, it’s discriminatory. No, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just a crappy thing.
A lawyer is expensive but you need someone who is really well versed in the immigration process. If you go at it alone, expect a lot of surprise visits, threats of removal, multiple interviews full of horribly embarrassing and personal questions, home searches and additional fees for a MUCH longer timetable. Even with a lawyer, all of the above can (and likely will) happen – but without one they are all a certainty. It boils down to how much you know about the immigration process yourself and what your piece of mind is worth. They can also help speed up the process…but speed is a relative term.
The shortest time I have ever heard of for acquiring a green card and (semi-permanent) residence is 7 1/2 months and that was someone from a friendly country in a real love marriage with an immigration lawyer. The longest process I have witnessed is three years. That’s a really wide window of time where travel and income are not possible. Plan for a long length and hope or pray for a short one.
From all accounts, the home visits and interviews are the worst. Auditors automatically assume that your marriage is false and treat you like suspects whether it is or not. They will wander your home, making sure there are no signs of a roommate situation and that your belongings are fully integrated with your partner’s. They tend to interview each person separately asking about everything from sexual preferences to favorite books, and if your answers don’t match, your marriage is flagged. They’ll ask about birthmarks and moles to test how familiar you are with each others’ bodies so make sure you know these things, even if you’re not in love. If it is flagged, you can expect a lot more of the same or a denied status. When the auditor leaves, he or she will often ask you to sign their assessment and even if it went well, consider it carefully before you sign. If there is a single doubt or inconsistency on it, you should not sign. You can always blame it on a lawyer and say that they want to make sure everything requiring a signature goes through them. If you don’t really have one yet, get one right away if you refuse to sign or have a bad feeling about the visit and interview.
Even if everything goes well, your paperwork is all in perfect order, and the auditor approves your application, (which is incredibly rare after one visit,) it will be another 4-8 weeks before the magical Green Card arrives. This doesn’t mean the surprise visits and the scrutiny are over. You can’t get a quicky divorce and go about your life. Most marriage and familial green cards are conditional and only valid for 2 years. During that time interviews and audits can still occur. Nearly two years later, you can apply for truly permanent residence if you remember to petition the government within 90 days of your card’s expiration date. In effect, the only thing this temporary card means is that you can now try to find a job in a new country after however long it has been since you have worked and you can go home again for a visit, as long as your partner travels with you. You must maintain the illusion of being happily married whether you are or not, for at least two more years if not longer. Any change to your marital status will open the door for another fraud investigation, and you may lose your new freedom to work and travel again, or in the worst circumstances, you’ll be deported.
These things happen every day. I know one person who was stuck in a marriage for seven years, because he decided to help a pen pal. More recently. my friends who really are in love and married, just went through this whole process but are now so broke and exhausted that they are trying to move back to Ireland. Immigration sites don’t usually make this kind of information readily available and these are all things to ponder if you’re thinking about marrying into this country. It is not easy, nor is it quick. Even devoted, truly wedded lovers have a hard time with it – and Green Card marriages have to last for much longer than a lot of our “real” ones do in this country. Our statue of liberty may say “Give us your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but our government says no such thing and it never will. Don’t believe the hype and consider all your options very carefully, including staying right where you are or giving another country a try. After all, there are many who already live here who would love to leave this country, and that number is probably much higher than you would think. The United States may claim to be the best, but remember that we have been proven to be the worst “first world” country in both health care and education…and we’re not improving. Threats of government shutdown, an argumentative and disrespectful political body, out of control corporations, and the blatant disregard for equality are actually getting worse. Perhaps where you are isn’t as bad as you think. Just a thought…