I am living in California on borrowed time. I am here on a student visa that is about to expire. These days, getting a more permanent type of immigration visa is no easy feat. I am a financially stable, white lawyer whose first language is English. I have a master’s degree from a California university, years of New York City work experience and a home in Southern California. Even for me, a visa is proving elusive.
People often ask me why, given the political climate, I would want to stay here rather than return to Canada. Trust me, the American political climate is so much more tolerable than the actual Canadian climate! Do not misunderstand me, I have serious ideological objections to the ethics and decisions of numerous public and corporate officials. However, this lack of institutional integrity does not yet have a deleterious impact on my daily life.
As for weather, picture this: Toronto in January. It is 8 degrees. I am wearing two winter jackets, a pair of thermal leggings, fleece-lined breeches, two pairs of wool socks, two base layers and two fleece shirts, a head band to cover my ears, a helmet, winter riding boots, and a pair of battery-operated heated gloves. I can see my breath. I can see the breath of Azriel, my horse. Azriel is wearing a thermal pad and a wool cooler to keep her warm as we ride. Dressed so heavily, my agility is compromised. I will be dressed more-or-less like this for five months of the year in order to ride. There will be evenings when it is even colder, too cold to ride for fear of frostbite or damaging Azriel’s lungs. Believe it or not, many riders and other athletes actually do regularly endure this cold to continue training through the winter. I am a bit more sensitive to the cold than others. As I write this, it is 79 degrees out and I am wearing a leather jacket. I really cannot imagine going back to living where the daily high temperature is well below 70 degrees for much of the year.
For a Canadian to be present in the United States for more than six months in any one-year period, an immigration visa is required. The potentially viable options for obtaining a visa are: effective November 21, 2019, invest $900,000 in an economically depressed area (or $1.8 million into any area); start and maintain a business, which essentially requires a $350,000 investment, paying rent and hiring employees from the outset; rely on a family member that is an American citizen to act as a sponsor; or find a job as a professional for which an employer will act as a sponsor. These options are not unique to me. They are available under a combination of U.S. immigration law and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and they are more generous than the rules that apply to would-be immigrants from many other countries.
Here’s the problem; I cannot seem to make any of these options work. The investment options are beyond my financial reach. The family sponsor option, a sibling in my case, would take 10 years. That leaves starting a business or an employer-sponsored visa.
The business approach is problematic because starting and owning a business would be a stretch for me and the need to make a $350,000 investment and incur significant expenses immediately is daunting. I actually would like to start an online or consulting business which could potentially grow into a business that would pay rent and hire employees. If I was successful, I could then qualify for a visa in this way. I have the time right now. However, as long as I am living in California on a student visa, starting a business is not permitted.
As far as employer-sponsored visas go, every online application I have completed has indicated that the job is only available to applicants who are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Some employers very clearly state that they will not act as sponsors for visa applications.
Since I have never tried to obtain a work visa for a California-based job in the past, I cannot say whether this difficulty is unique to California or whether it is a consequence of a change in immigration policy under President Trump. If it is a Republican policy change perhaps, if the Democrats win in 2020, immigration may be less restrictive sometime after 2020.
Given the level of difficulty I have experienced, particularly in comparison to prior years when obtaining a work visa has been a non-issue for me, I am puzzled by the public perceptions around the ease with which immigrants enter the U.S.
I want to work and I have the skills to work. I would be a benefit rather than a burden to U.S. society. I am grateful to have had the funds to enter the U.S. as an international student residing in an affluent area rather than as a would-be immigrant residing in a detention center. I am despondent that unless something changes, I have to head home in January, 2020.
The good news is that right now, the forecast is for a warmer than normal January in Toronto; highs near 32 degrees and lows near 10 degrees. The bad news is, I will be working during the days and riding in the evenings. So, if you have any sweaters, scarves or battery-operated heated gloves to spare, let me know.