The fact that I’m dedicating an entire post to visas hopefully sheds some light on just how much time I’ve spent dealing with immigration crap.
I was always aware of the difficulties of being a citizen of one country while residing in or traveling to another. In college, having a student visa meant I wasn’t allowed to work off-campus and get paid for a part-time job. Being an Indian citizen meant I couldn’t make last-minute spring break travel plans or take advantage of sudden cheap deals – I had to plan in advance and get visas before I could go anywhere. Recruiting was the worst – my immigrant status meant that any company that hired me would have to “sponsor” me i.e. apply and pay for my US work visa. In an unfavorable job market where there was no shortage of eager jobseekers and where companies were trying to cut costs, I was at a clear disadvantage.
After a harrowing recruiting season senior year, I thankfully managed to get a job at a consulting firm in New York. The paperwork got processed and aside from applying for visas for travel during vacations, I had no problems for two years. But two months ago, immigration issues started torturing me again. It was easy for me to make the decision to quit and take a year off to travel. And I was aware of and mentally prepared for the fact that I needed visas for all the countries I was going to (including home – Nigeria). But it was only after I gave my two weeks notice that I realized I had to apply for all these visas before my last day of work. This was because I had to show that I was a resident of the US with a stable, full-time job in order to increase my chances of getting the visa (many countries even ask for proof of employment as part of the application process to ensure you aren’t trying to immigrate to that country).
As a result, my last two weeks of work consisted of scrambling to get visa applications done, getting up extra early to go wait in lines to submit documents at consulates (before work started at 9am) and staying late at the office to wrap up and transition projects. On top of that, I also had to apply to change my immigration status from worker to tourist through the US Department of Homeland Security, so that I could remain in the US for a few weeks after my last day to pack and say my goodbyes. Else, the day I stopped working, I’d become illegal (and jeopardize any chances of re-entry into the US).
And now, I find myself dealing with the same stuff. Changing my status in the US from worker to tourist allowed me to stay in the country after quitting. But once I left the US, the visa stamp in my passport still became invalid. If I wanted to go back to the US, I’d need a new visa. Because some of my flights in the upcoming months are booked through US cities and because I have some bags I left with friends in New York, I need to be able to enter the US. Hence, I need a US tourist visa. And since I am not a resident of Nigeria, I can’t apply for the visa from Lagos.
So, I am currently in destination #2: Kolkata, India…back in my country of citizenship, gathering documents and praying my US visa application gets approved. I’m sad my visit home lasted for barely a week, but my Mom and brother are here with me (they are applying for various visas too). And though not originally part of the plan, I guess this isn’t all bad. This month in India will allow me to spend time with extended family and explore my roots. And since this whole journey is supposed to help me find out where I feel I belong the most, I can see if India can be that place I’m looking to call my permanent home.