An Immigrant Answers, ‘Why Don’t They Just Apply For Citizenship?’


I want to take a moment to show how difficult it is to legally immigrate to this country. By no means am I trying to throw myself a pity party, because I fully understand that going through this process is 100% my own choice, but I do want to share this to shed a light on the issue. ‘

After you graduate from a US college as an international student, you are able to participate in a program called OPT, which is basically a year-long extension onto your student visa to gain work experience in the US. You can only work in a field related to your major, and finding an employer willing to hire someone who is not only a temporary but also a foreign worker, can be challenging for many international students.

Fortunately, the company I had previously interned for was very supportive and hired me back as a full-time employee after graduation. This happened in April of my senior year. As soon as I found out, I submitted the paperwork for my EAD card (the work permit needed for OPT). After graduating in May, I went home to Belgium for the first time in 2.5 years to reconnect with friends and family before starting my job in Richmond, VA. My permit was still pending at this time.

At the end of June, I flew back to Richmond with some money set aside to start out with and a 7/16 start date at work. My work permit was still pending, but I needed to move in my apartment, so I signed a lease not knowing whether or not I would have to break in case I did not get my permit. So I moved into my unfurnished apartment that I had never before seen in person.

Fortunately, my friend lived in the same complex and let me stay with her until I was able to move in a bed and some other furniture. About a week before my start date, I finally got a notice saying that my permit was being produced. The only thing is, you can’t start work until you hold the actual EAD card in your hands. So at this time, it is past my start date, which my employer graciously delayed, and I am still waiting.

Eventually, I get a notice saying that it had been sent to the wrong address and that I needed to put in a request to have it resent. Long story short, I received my card at the end of August. At this point, I had paid for two months of rent, bought some furniture, and had a bank account that had gone down to two digits. However, I was excited to finally get on my own two feet and start working.

Flash forward to March of this year. I completely felt like I had everything figured out. My social life in Richmond had picked up, I had saved up some money again, I landed a promotion at work, and my employer and I were getting ready to submit my next visa application. This H1-B visa, also known as a work visa, allows you to live and work in the US for 3 years at a time. The great thing about this visa is that while you hold it, you are able to apply for a green card (permanent residency). The not-so-great thing is that they only issue 65,000 H-1B visas each year, which is about 42% of all applications.

But we’ll get back to that.

When we kicked off the process, I had five days to collect the necessary documents for the application. We’re talking about documents from six years ago from when I first came to the US, to transcripts, diplomas, every visa and passport I’ve ever held, and much more. A stressful five-day scavenger hunt, but we got it all turned in at the beginning of April.

At this point, the notorious “visa lottery” happens. A computer-generated system selects 65,000 applications at random, and everyone else simply gets rejected. More than half the people who were trying to start a life here got a firm “no,” not even taking into account their merit or background. That blows my mind.

And unfortunately, I was one of those people. At least I think so?

The government finished sending out approval notices on 5/15 (a month and a half after the lottery happened) and is currently in the process of sending out rejections, but I haven’t received either one. The odds of still getting approved are slim to none, but I also haven’t officially been denied yet.

I’m in complete limbo.

At this point, I am able to work for one more month until my work permit expires on 7/16. My actual visa expires on 8/13, meaning I only have two months left in the United States. I’ve been in denial about it, I’ve been angry about it, I’ve definitely cried about it, but at this point, I am ready to take whatever comes for what it is. It’s been a long process and I am mentally and physically drained.

Like most immigrants, I have worked my ass off for where I am today. I quite literally started from scratch, and while I may have never had a fancy apartment or my own car, I made it work with what I had and with the help of the amazing friends I’ve made along the way. I’ve worked for everything I own, I graduated summa cum laude, I’ve lived, worked, and volunteered in three different states, I pay my taxes, and I contribute to society as a whole. So yes, it is extremely frustrating that I am not allowed to live in the country I love, which is a country that was built by immigrants from all over the world.

“Why can’t undocumented immigrants just get in line?”
“Why don’t they just apply for citizenship?”
“Why can’t immigrants just get legal?”

Rant over, for now.