Don’t want immigrants on the public dole? End the work permit backlog.
I had an American wife, thousands in savings and prestigious job offers, but the waiting period for my work permit still left me nearly broke.
The Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security recently proposed a new rule that makes it harder for immigrants to obtain a green card if they use any kind of public benefits while in the United States.
In 2014, the waiting period for an application for employment authorization was about two months, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In 2018 the processing time doubled to more than four months. The administration ought to focus on diminishing that backlog, instead of punishing immigrants who go broke while waiting to be allowed to work.
It was March 1, 2018, when I set foot on American soil as an official immigrant on a K1-visa. It’s the so-called fiancé(e)-visa. My wife, an American with a decent job in a prominent museum, lives in Washington, D.C., so I joined her there. I love this country and its people, employers were very interested in my resume, and we got married on March 24. We were off to a flying start. Or so we thought.
The long, expensive road to legal status
As soon as you’re married, you can apply for a work permit. That should be able to help you earn money while you wait for your green card, which can take about 11 months in 2018 (compared with about six months in 2014).
But that work permit, for me specifically, could take between four and seven months at the D.C. office. Let me tell you something: Seven months in D.C. is not cheap. It’s hardly affordable for one person on one modest salary, and completely unaffordable for two people on one salary.
Besides paying an enormous amount on rent and food, here’s an overview of the fees we paid:
►I-129F: Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) (including the cost of a medical examination) $745
►I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (green card) $1,225
►I-765: Application for Employment Authorization (work permit) $410
And this is without having hired an immigration lawyer, so it does not include legal fees.
When you have a large amount of savings and a decent wage, like my wife and me, you can still go broke within six months while you’re waiting.
If your view of new immigrants using benefits is one of lazy people not willing to work, consider that I received three different job offers from an international organization — but I had to decline, because I was waiting on the immigration bureaucracy to work through my file. If your view of new immigrants using benefits is one of low-skilled folks with no future in the job market, please bear in mind that I’m fluent in English, have a Ph.D. in public management, and left a promising career in Europe to be here with my wife.
If we would need to apply for public benefits, it’s not for lack of trying, but because the backlogs of the Trump administration itself drove us there.
I started out with around $10,000 in savings. All of that’s gone now. If the waiting for my work permit had dragged on any longer, government assistance would have been a realistic and necessary option for us. Luckily, late last month, the pink pass arrived in my mailbox, finally allowing me to work and pay my taxes.
A crushing process for some legal immigrants
And we were lucky. We had savings; I could be added to my wife’s insurance; we have families who have been able to help us out with loans; we were diligent with our money; and both of us have pretty good prospects in the job market.
But for so many, who only want to live in this country legally with their families, I can only imagine that this process crushes them before they can even start their lives here in the U.S. If this is what legal immigration looks like, you can imagine why people would try and go around the system.
If Trump and his administration want to crack down on illegal immigration, that’s their prerogative. If they want to be tougher on freeloaders on public benefits, also fine. But punishing legal immigrants who are pushed in a corner, unable to work because of backlogs in the government bureaucracy, that’s close to administrative malfeasance.
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