07/29/2015 02:15 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2016

What It Feels Like When Your Future Is In The Hands of the U.S. Government

Cristina Lopez G

It finally happened. In the most anti-climatic way possible, the months of anxiety-induced wake-ups in the middle of the night, of sudden bouts of tears, of random heartburn and inexplicable hyperventilating episodes, were put to an end by the information displayed on a computer screen. A website, clearly created with practicality and not aesthetics in mind, boasted five words in an underwhelming shade of blue: This Case Has Been Approved.

This case has been approved. Technically, the five magic words only mean that my employer's application for me to stay on an H1B visa to continue work was approved after what, unbeknownst to many, is a bizarre and arbitrary process that responds to neither human nor practical cues. Luck plays a role more important than supply and demand or potential creation of value. Since the number of applications vastly exceeds the cap of H1B visas given out each year, all applications are entered into a lottery where, very much like The Hunger Games' reaping, life-altering resolutions are left to chance. Luck is the first hurdle.

This Case Has Been Approved. Five words. One specific meaning, but so many implications. This case has been approved, i.e. my ability to plan beyond the next two months has been approved. Getting attached to friends and places is no longer reckless. Dating can now be on the table. Transitioning from a month-to-month to a long-term lease is now allowed. The feeling of not owning my future is gone. Also gone is the pit of anguish that had physically lodged itself at the bottom of my stomach since the last week of March. The uncertainty of handing over my destiny to the U.S. government had taken over conversations with friends -- which got me lots of "Just marry someone. Literally anyone, now in all 50 states!" -- and led to many "could be the last" terrible decisions.

After the lottery in the first week of April, the waiting period began, and I waited to hear back on whether I got the golden ticket. And much like in Dr. Seuss' Oh! The Places You'll Go, there is not a lot of happy in "the waiting place." Sick parents, family funerals or friends' weddings notwithstanding, you can't travel in and out of the U.S. while in this waiting place. Regardless of the slight feeling of imprisonment, no news in the waiting period is actually good news: each day of no news is one more day you're still allowed to stay. Early news tend to be bad news: an order to stop working within a little over a week, pack your belongings, say your goodbyes and leave the country within 60 days.

Given how broken the U.S. immigration system is and how it forces so many immigrants and their families to go through inhumane journeys and endure nightmarish hardships, complaining about the agony behind the H1B application process might come across as a first-class passenger whining for more leg space. It's an enormous privilege in and of itself to have an employer who is willing to face the steep costs and waiting times of Immigration Services just to keep one employee around. However, the cost of not discussing the system on its merits is colossal: the talents of many brilliant immigrants who have fallen in love with this country are lost every year to the obsolete rules of the H1B process. And since the constituency affected doesn't vote, there are no real incentives to reform it.

The faces of immigration activism -- and rightly so! -- are the million undocumented immigrants who have taken root in American soil, but are still forced to live in the shadows. The only thing politicians on both sides of the aisle agree on is the need for a comprehensive immigration reform. If truly comprehensive, it should also tackle the work visa system and transition it to a process that responds to the needs of job creators in the American economy and not to the needs of politicians. This case has been approved. My case. And with it, my selfish peace of mind, a feeling I can't share with the thousands of equally-deserving, skilled, yet unlucky immigrants who will be headed back home this year leaving loved ones and memories behind. This case has been approved.

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