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.