The Travel Question

In the Challenge Cheryl series of articles, Twilight asked:

Why 6 mos. here and 6 mos. across the pond?

The quick and obvious answer is, “not through choice, I can assure you.” The long answer is rather more complicated. Please note in reading the following that I’m not an immigration lawyer, and I can’t afford to consult one. Some of what I say may be wrong. If it is, and you can put me right, please do so.

I guess the starting point is to state that I’m a British citizen, not an American citizen. Consequently I have no right to stay in the US for as long as I would like. This actually comes as a surprise to some people, but there it is. The legal restriction is that, absent some sort of visa, I cannot stay in the US for more than 90 days at a time, and no more than 180 days total in any one year. Provided I keep within those limits, however, I can keep coming and going, which is what I do.

While I often joke about Britain being cold and wet (and it is, in comparison to California), I could stay there. However, I prefer to spend as much of my time as possible with Kevin, and I have a lot more friends in the Bay Area than I do in the UK. Furthermore, I can’t afford to keep two homes, and Kevin can’t manage the rent here by himself. So I need to keep spending time here. When I am not in the US I am dependent on the generosity of others for accommodation, a dependency I prefer to keep to a minimum.

At this point people normally say, “why don’t you just get a job?” But again it isn’t that easy. US companies can’t just employ anyone they want. There is a process you have to go through, and requirements that you have to fulfill. There is also a limit to the number of work visas that can be given out. The most common form of work visa, the H1B temporary work permit, is hard to get hold of simply because so many people want them. Although Congress has been increasing the number of H1Bs allowed, the competition for them is now so intense that the entire year’s allocation is typically used up within a few weeks of their being released.

In any case, immigration authorities the world over have a very clear idea of the sort of person that they want to let in. That person is young, and very well qualified in the particular specialization in which they are going to work. Typically they are looking for recent postgraduate students. Such people will be of great benefit to the national economy for many years to come. Someone old like me will very soon be a drain on the economy, even in a country like the US with no national health service. In addition my university degree is not in the area in which I now work. Some countries make allowances for this, but the US is more strict than most. Consequently I can’t claim my degree as a supporting factor in any visa application.

In any case, hardly anyone gets a green card straight off. The usual pattern is that you spend two years on an H1B, after which time, if your employer likes you, they will extend the H1B and begin a green card application. That is a pretty big “if”, because it is generally cheaper for an employer to let you go and bring in a new, younger person on a 2-year H1B than it is to get you a green card. They really have to like you to want to keep you. And if they don’t keep you then you are royally screwed. When your visa runs out you have to leave the country in a hurry and go back to the place of your birth, where you may well have no work contacts and no recent employment history. This sort of thing has happened to me twice, and I have no savings as a result. I simply can’t afford to go through that again.

There are other ways to get a visa. The most obvious is to start up your own business. Now I have my own business, and I have clients in the US. I know I can support myself. But that isn’t good enough. In order to qualify for a visa I would need at least $1 million that I could invest in setting up a business in the US. I’d also have to provide a business plan explaining how I would create at least 10 jobs. The sort of work I do doesn’t really lend itself to that sort of operation. Nor am I sufficiently famous to qualify for entry on name recognition alone (yes, you can do that). I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading the various visa descriptions, and there just isn’t one that will fit me.

Finally a number of people have said to me, “why don’t you and Kevin get married.” The answer to that, in the words of the relationship question on Facebook, is “it’s complicated.” Most relationships are, of course, but ours happens to be complicated in ways that governments and religious conservatives don’t like, and that’s not helpful when it comes to immigration applications.

All in all, therefore, I’m stuck. If I want to continue to spend time with Kevin, then I have to keep going back and fore sufficiently regularly that I will not breach any of the legal requirements on my entry to the country. Hence the peripatetic lifestyle.

9 Responses to The Travel Question

  1. Carolyn says:

    What a difficult situation. I’m sure this is old news to you, but on the very outside chance that it isn’t: there’s a green card lottery every year which is free to enter (spam from “immigration consultants” notwithstanding). I have a friend whose brother obtained a green card that way, so it’s definitely worth entering.

  2. Twilight says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Carolyn: I know all about the green card lottery. It is a wonderful thing for you Kiwis, for Australians, and even for the Irish. But a few nationalities are barred from entering it: Chinese, Libyans, North Koreans, Iranians, and the British.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Oops, I had no idea. How very bizarre. After the War of Independence the US clearly isn’t taking any chances.

  5. If I ever win the lottery…
    Seriously, I enjoy it when you are around. You have a great sense of humor (probably have to with the life you lead). Luckily I also enjoy your writing, so when you aren’t here I still hear you.
    See you next Monday!

  6. Cheryl says:

    Thank you, Lisa. That was very kind of you. Hopefully I shall continue to be amusing.

  7. Joshua says:

    Actually, from what I can find about the Green Card Lottery, Chinese and British are barred but not Libyans, North Koreans, or Iranians, at least for the most current lottery.

    Eligibility for the lottery is determined not on national security concerns relating to the applicant’s country, but on which countries have *not* had over 50,000 people immigrate to the U.S. in other categories in recent years.

    So, for example, countries like Canada, Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, and the U.K. are out, because we get plenty of immigrants from those countries through family reunification and employment-based immigration.

    Therefore, if you want a chance at the lottery, you should actively discourage your fellow Brits from coming to the U.S. for the next few years. If the immigration rate from the U.K. drops enough, eventually the U.K. will be a low-immigration country and eligible for the lottery. (This paragraph is literally true but meant ironically.)

  8. Cheryl says:

    Joshua:

    Hey, you are right, things seem to have changed a bit recently. The “too many immigrants” thing has always been there. That’s why UK citizens haven’t been eligible. But the last time I looked there were a whole lot of “national security” exemptions too. It looks like the State Department is now monitoring the situation on a year-by-year basis and adjusting the list of eligible countries accordingly. The current rules can be found here.

    I suspect that my changes of dissuading my fellow Brits from trying to get out of the country are not good, given that people are currently leaving at record rates. What does annoy me, however, is that people from Northern Ireland are exempt from the exclusion. I very much doubt that there are 50,000 Welsh people going to the US each year. Why can’t we be counted separately too? Yet another good reason to cut the link with the UK.

  9. Joshua says:

    You don’t have to dissuade your fellow Brits from leaving the country — just direct them to Australia or New Zealand or other countries, as the above link indicates that many of them are going to already.

    The reason that Northern Ireland counts separately from the rest of the U.K. was apparently the result of Senator Ted Kennedy’s desire to increase the number of visas granted to Irish people.

    I didn’t realize you were a native of Wales, but as far as I can tell, if Wales did secede from the U.K., it would presumably be entitled to a separate quota and thus most likely qualify for the green card lottery.

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