Thursday, September 11, 2008

Best News of the Month!!

Or, "More options than you'd think for the Canadian H4 visa-holder"!

We had a really helpful meeting with an immigration lawyer today, yay! This isn't going to be a craft post, so come back in another day or two if you like. I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures in this post. In fact, this is really a lonnnnng rambling post about our immigration experience thus far.

As some of you may or may not know, D and I are moving to Pennsylvania later this year, where D will begin working as an assistant professor. Although we would have liked to return to Canada, the academic world just doesn't really work that way, and you go where the jobs are. D happened to get a great job offer, so back in January we decided that we'd move to Bethlehem and see how we liked it there. For whatever reason, it didn't even cross my mind that I wouldn't be able to work next year.

I'm on a J-2 spousal visa this year, which legally permits me to work in the U.S, so I'm thinking that it's just normal to be able to work anywhere in North America. Oooh, I was so wrong. Apparently the J-2 is the only spousal visa under which you can work. I had just ignorantly assumed there would be the equivalent visa once we switched over to an H1-B visa. Nope! It turns out that the H4 spousal visa holder cannot work at all, unless they get their own visa sponsorship. H4s can study, volunteer, travel, have babies and be stay at home parents (if you can add to this list, that would really wow me). They can't even get a driver's license until 12 months have passed, and are not eligible to receive their own SSN. The H4 is basically invisible.

It's pretty much a recipe for disaster, resulting in an insane number of highly educated spouses (mainly women) who leave their home countries seeking for an improved quality of life, but instead face losing their sense of purpose and identity, are confined to their suburban homes (no driving, remember?), cannot necessarily afford to further their education, and become socially isolated and depressed as they join the 'H4 housewives club', a term I have seen popping up everywhere on the Internet. Interestingly, the blogging phenomenon has created something of a support and advice network for H4 visa holders, including blogs like this one. I might be sounding a bit dramatic, but it's a big problem. Having the choice to work matters, even if you choose not to. When you don't have this choice, it feels oppressive. Certainly, there are women who overcome these barriers and actually learn to enjoy and make the most of their H4 status (taking classes, pursuing hobbies, non-profit volunteer work) , but the truth is that not everyone has the means or the kind of resiliency it takes. And not everyone has a wonderfully supportive spouse. Wow. I'm really on a rant today. I haven't even started on working illegally under the table...

Anyhow, the discovery of the "H4s can't work" fact was mind-boggling and just weird, given we know so many academic couples, yet have never heard explicitly about anyone's spousal immigration visa woes. Getting your own visa sponsorship is not impossible, but is not an easy task. First, you must find work that requires the minimum of a specific undergraduate education. Then, you have to compete with all the other applicants for that job. Then, you have to convince the employer not to freak out at the mention of 'visa sponsorship'. Then, you have to hope that the yearly immigration quota, which caps at something like 65,000 H-visas per year, isn't met.

This past year has been an eye-opening experience for me, and I'm grateful that I've had a chance to explore some interests that have always appealed to me but never pursued. I'm beginning to rethink my career options. I really liked my old job, my first real job, but I don't necessarily want to go back, at least not full time. I have really loved working in bakeries and want to continue doing it, somehow. After a couple weeks of stewing in frustration, I decided I might go back to school for a 1-2 year pastry and baking program if I couldn't work anywhere I wanted. But, what would I do after I finished school? Still can't work in a bakery. Work for free? For how long? How long would it take to get permanent residency? What's the quota on that? Does it really take 7 years? When will someone actually pay me to bake? Maybe I should be a baking therapist and hang a shingle outside my house? Feed you sweets to cheer you up?

Fast forward to today. What we really should have done, and my advice to anyone out there in the same situation, is GO TALK TO AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER! It is worth it. Not that our decision would have changed, but we wished we had done this when D got the job offer. Luckily, we haven't missed any opportunities, but it would have been nice to have this information sooner to reduce the worry and sense of uncertainty we had.

What I learned today:
  • If D's employer can demonstrate that he was selected on a nationwide search, they can initiate our greencard application process within 18 months (what's still unclear is if this is from the date of job offer, or date of H1-B visa approval), which is good news because the wait is shorter than I imagined.
  • There is currently a shorter waiting period for Canada greencard applications, dependent on how fast the Department of Labour can process it. It sounded like it could be as little as 6 months to a year. And, the H4 can submit their employment authorization documents at the same time the greencard forms are submitted.
  • Universities are not limited by the 65,000 quota for their hiring, so there may be more opportunities for employment with any organization that is affiliated with a University
  • Canadians can apply for a TN visa (under NAFTA, which expires every year) for certain job categories that include social workers and research assistants among many, many others, and are supposedly much easier to approve. We were told that you essentially show up at the border crossing with a letter from your employer saying they want you, your resume, your degrees, and they approve your TN visa at the border. Oh, and there's no quota.
  • You can work under the TN visa and switch over once you are granted permanent residency. The only thing you have to plan carefully is the timing between the expiration of the TN and the start of the Greencard
If you've read up to this point, thank you so much for listening. It's been on my mind a lot and it's such a relief to have some answers from a professional that actually knows the rules. You can spend countless hours searching for information on the Internet, but you have no way of knowing if what you read applies to you, or if you've interpreted it correctly.

Where does that leave me? Well, kind of with the same plans. I've pretty much committed to enrolling in a pastry and baking program, but the details aren't quite clear yet. It's weird to think about going back to school, especially after declaring upon finishing my Masters that I would never go back to school again! Never say never, I guess.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Wow! This is definitely why the USA has such a massive illegal immigration problem, the red tape involved in legal immigration is just amazing.
I'm really glad you were able to work your situtation out though! :)