Here I am, sitting with my homemade Starbucks accompanied by my cute pup and husband-to-be, trying to process what just happened because, for lack of a better word, it felt like a nightmare.
I just walked away from my new job...one I actually liked.
To clarify, I was technically ''let go" -- not because I committed some unforgivable crime. No, I walked away from a great opportunity because I had to. I was unauthorized to work and I could not in good conscience lead my colleagues on without addressing my situation.
Which is what exactly?
Well, it's no fairytale. I am a legal immigrant who had done all the right things but had hit a roadblock. Actually, scratch that. I am a legal who had done all the right things but has to face a mountain. Ironically, it has nothing to do with anything I did. It was my former employer/alma mater and their lack of due diligence.
After obtaining my MBA, I was eligible for a new visa, an extension to be exact. It's called OPT, also known as Optional Practical Training. With this extension, I'd receive a year to work full-time at any company I wanted and the whole shebang. It was a chance to pursue my dreams even further, including pay off all my debt, invest in my business and create a more stable life for myself.
In order to acquire this extension, the USCIS (the United States Citizen and Immigration Services) required that I submit specific forms, passport-sized photos of myself and a payment of $380. The earliest I could submit this paperwork was 90 days before my graduation date or, at the latest, 60 days after I graduated. The process, though, takes three months to process.
Armed with this information, and being the type A planner that I am, I decided to apply for my extension at the earliest time. Why? Well, I figured that if I applied earlier, I would be able to have my Employment Authorization Card as soon as I graduated, keeping me in right standing with the government and allowing me to work for any employer that chose me right out of grad school. At the same time, I began to put in applications. In fact, through Indeed alone, I submitted over 108 job applications over a period of 60 days and interviewed for as many as I was invited to. I got turned down from jobs but that was ok because I understood the job market. I knew it would take time and I also knew the struggle for a grad student in a corporate world where I had little experience.
I for sure thought that I would be okay. In fact, I had faith that it would. I had done all the right things, checked with the right people but that's not how it worked out. Nothing could compare to pit in my stomach at that moment -- emptiness I experienced when I opened the letter that would tell me my fate.
That's what it said.
YOU ARE DENIED.
What? How in the world did this happen and why?
My eyes frantically scanned the piece of paper I held in my hand, looking for an answer but also scared to see what it could be. And there, in a set apart section was the reason. All of a sudden, my anxiety turned to fear, and then my fear turned to rage because what I saw before my eyes was a downright shame.
One of the forms I needed for the application had been submitted 18 days late. Yep, 18, but ironically, the minute I saw those words professionally typed in black ink across the page, I remembered a moment. It was a moment in time I wish that I could take back.
You see, while reviewing the USCIS instructions for my OPT application, I saw that one of the required forms was an OPT Recommendation from the DSO (Designated School Official) at my college. As a result, I emailed my DSO, asking for this piece of paper to include in my application. I mean it had to be important if the USCIS required it! Alas! My request received a nonchalant reply, stating that it was not something I needed to worry about. And that moment, that moment right there, is the one that moves me to write this piece today.
You see, that one instance of neglecting to specifically attend to detail at my alma mater, resulted in me losing a job that I worked hard for, defaulting on bills and, here's the best part, I cannot work for another employer for another three months. After meeting with a local immigration lawyer, I learned that the best chance I had was to reapply and wait with bated breath for another three months.
And I'm here to say that it's just not fair. It's not fair to my family that they were unable to truly enjoy their Christmas because we were hoping and praying that I could get my new paperwork submitted before Christmas so I wouldn't become undocumented. It isn't fair that some mornings, I wake to up to bank notifications reminding me that my accounts are in default. It isn't fair that I have to choose between feeding myself and investing in my business. And it damn sure isn't fair that I am the one who's going to have to deal with the resulting credit issues that may arise as an aftermath.
Yes, I emailed the school, requesting that they pay attention to my situation; but, after an initial attempt to tell me it was my fault that this happened, they paid the application and overnight mailing fee and that's been it. As if $400 could replace the $6,000 and stable position. No help. No one reaching out asking me how I'd survive with no expected income for the next three months. Nothing. Just deafening silence. As if my contribution as a former student and employee meant nothing but a number who passed through the system.
The worst part is, I don't know if they'll ever care or ever pay attention. After word of this circulates, I might be excommunicated from their system and campus. My Christianity may even be called into question but nevertheless, I must write this. Not because I have some selfish agenda but because I need to. Someone out there needs my story and I refuse to cower in fear in the face of injustice. I can't be afraid anymore.
You see, the immigration process for legal immigrants can be tough. That's nothing new. However, what's more tragic is the lack of attention to details of some organizations who sign up for the task of educating those who choose to come to the United States. It's not the government's fault. It's people not doing their jobs.
Luckily for me, I have a business and the pursuit of that dream is keeping my hope afloat. However, even though I have the support of my family, friends and church, it would be remiss of me to sit idly by and not speak up. I have vowed in my life to be a door and not a wall -- a door to help people reach their potential, a door to love and a door to give people who are unheard a voice in their community. So today, whether or not I am acknowledged, I choose to be a voice -- a voice who stands up for the rights of the looked down on.
I AM AN IMMIGRANT AND THIS IS MY TRUTH.