Ten Things You Don’t Know About Immigration

Hey readers, this article got picked up by Economy, a website devoted to demystifying economics and making it personal. Check out the version that got published here. 

Being married doesn’t always help you to live in the same country

I’m from the States. My husband is English. This is a problem, in spite of the ‘special relationship’ between our countries, we are not allowed to live in either country at this time. We can visit under visa wavier programmes, but we cannot work in the same place without residency. We therefore choose to live in 3rd countries, where we are both subject to the same visa process.

076

Sign here, dear…

I do not get tax breaks associated with marriage due to my husband’s non-citizen status. Both our immigration records include notes that we should be asked more questions at the border due to being married to a citizen. We are separated temporarily right now, me in the US and him in the UK. We chose to spend three weeks in Vietnam in part because we knew we could be together as spouses.

Money matters much more than it should

Did you know that one can purchase a passport in some countries? Yes, if you happen to have $3,000,000 lying about you can buy the right to vote in elections and pass freely through borders. Recently my own government (er, excuse me, the Kushner firm that happens to be tied directly to President Trump) was accused of selling access to the US Green Card programme for just $500,000 in China. 

The thing is, this is an official programme called the EB-5 visa.

The Kushners did not invent it. Those who apply need not worry like the plebs about a criminal history or health problems. Who knows how many Green Cards are being bought already?

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 20.16.02

Those who dare to fall in love with a foreigner face serious financial difficulties in the US and the UK. In the UK, one has to have £18,600 to bring a a spouse over. That might not sound like much, but according to some estimates it is more than 41% of the population could come up with, more than what 55% of women could. Every child that is part of the family ‘costs’ an extra £2,400 per year.

If you are disabled, unemployed, or even a war veteran you cannot use your public funds to prove you have enough money for the right to family life. Money matters, not family bonds.

Immigration can make you sick

Photo on 08-04-2015 at 12.45

Shingles. April 2015. I got so stressed out by the Chinese Visa process that the Varicella virus dormant in my spinal cord since preschool burst forth on my forehead, scorching scars and leaving a trail of nerve damage in its wake. Let me tell you, there is a reason they call shingles ‘hellfire’ in many Scandanavian languages.

Immigrants suffer under the stress, and own health is commonly affected. Anxiety and depression are more common among immigrants than the general population, and not being covered by healthcare available to local citizens can take a toll. Many suffer insomnia around their applications, too.

Health exams are still common (and invasive)

When I taught my students in China about Ellis Island, they were universally horrified that a health exam was required to enter the USA at the time. I sputtered. The next day I brought part of my immigration records for China, which was the clean result of my own health exam.

At Ellis Island, you had about six seconds to prove you were healthy and fit for work. In the suburbs of Shanghai, we spent two hours undergoing a full physical, an exhaustive questionnaire about mental and physical health, a blood workup, a chest X-ray, and an abdominal ultrasound. Both health exams are awful, and most people who’ve never applied to work abroad don’t realise this remains a requirement.

It’s the same for each work permit I’ve obtained. The health exam cannot be skipped for many other visa categories, either. If I do decide to apply to live in England, I would have to do the same.

It’s not as simple as ‘Filing the Paperwork’

Paperwork should be straightforward. Immigration paperwork requires a lawyer. Or at least lawyer’s eyes. A single stray mark or the wrong coloured pen and your application could be rejected. I dream stress dreams about not checking a single box correctly in an application form and spending weeks or months separated from my husband.

On the upside, I am more organised than I have ever been in my life these days as a result of immigration. Some files that couples create for their spousal visas are more than 1000 pages long, with love letters (on paper, Facebook doesn’t count!), photographs, tax documents, and interview transcripts. It’s a huge undertaking, and is less like applying for a new Driver’s License and more like jumping into unknown, freezing waters.

jumping

Catch-22s pervade everything

‘So what’s your husband’s Social Security Number?’

‘He can’t have one yet, since he’s not a resident.’

‘Well, I can’t add him to the bank account without one.’

‘Ummm, but we can’t apply for residency until we have a shared bank account.’

‘Ummmmmmmmmmm.’

DCIM100MEDIA

You must have a job to work, but to get a job you must already be in country for the interview. You must have enough money to live in London, but you must not work more than 20 hours per week. You will be trained for a degree by a top university in country, but are required to leave before your graduation ceremony.

Elections have a direct effect, almost always

Trump. Brexit.

Enough said.

It takes years to immigrate

A fellow nomadic travel blogger, Runaway Juno, just received her immigrant visa to the USA recently. She posted herself happily with the page-sized sticker in her Korean Passport, the relief after 14 months of application and processing to join her spouse flowing out of the portrait itself. Once she passes her final border interview and moves to the US, she still has to fulfill many other requiresments before she can be secure in her status.

In many countries, one cannot even apply for residency until having lived there for 5-10 years.

We spoke to a lawyer in Boulder after we got engaged, and she said that although we could apply from outside the US it would take about 18 months on average to receive the Green Card. It is unpredictable and fluid, the length of time for a visa. A lot of hurry up and wait. Sometimes, a scramble for the right documents when the email comes down demanding them right fucking then or the whole thing is off. In the UK, the Home Office makes a call when one applies for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ about whether they require five years or ten of residency.

Months. Years.

Permanent Residency is not the same as citizenship and isn’t always permanent

img_5389

In both the UK and the USA this year, several groups of ‘permanent’ residents were told that they could not re-enter or leave the country, or that they should make plans to leave. Some, such as EU spouses who’ve lived in the UK for 20+ years, have no other place to go back to. A few such examples:

Even if one follows all the rules, permanent residents do not enjoy voting rights in most districts. They cannot leave the country of their residency for periods longer than six months or less. They are required to check in with immigration officials and any minor infractions may result in issues. They still have to go through separate immigration lines in many airports, away from family.

Immigrants also look like me

zhujiajiao 039

I tell my family who lean right to imagine my face, to pull it up before their eyes in the ballot box. I tell them to picture me every time someone uses the word ‘immigrant’ in a political rally. I do this because of the sneaking suspicion that they don’t know any immigrants, or that they don’t realise that my family (their family) is directly impacted by their choices in elections. Or that they think immigrants are some Other who looks nothing like them.

Yes, immigrants look like people from every place on Earth, and there are more than 300 million of us. That’s more than at any other time in human history.

To put that into nationalistic terms, we are almost as large as the whole United States’ population, scattered as we are around the world.

Humans are by nature adventurers. We left our species’ origins and spread around the globe long before immigration papers and passports had ever even been close to being imagined. There is evidence to suggest that we share a common vision of what a beautiful nature landscape looks like, and many of the descriptions put together by social scientists include a path arching off into the distance.

Immigrants have always been the ones to take that path.

This nation of immigrants is not going anywhere (strictly metaphorically speaking), and we will continue to grow. Talk to us. Seek us out. Connect with us. If necessary, defend us. You never know when you may have to join us. Don’t worry. There is a lot of space. Welcome, friends.

On Saving Lots of Money in Korea

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

About one year ago, I wrote a post titled “On Not Saving Any Money in Korea.” I encourage you to check it out for a reality check if you are currently considering moving abroad to do TEFL, currently living in South Korea as an English teacher, or interested in my bank account. Sorry, phishers. There’s only a screenshot without any info.

The post is almost wholly negative. I griped about the cost of living in South Korea. I griped about the possible inflation of saving possibilities by TEFL recruiters. I griped about how expensive the visa process was. I griped about my projection that I would only save about $2400 total during my year in Korea.

And guess what? I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I miss my old apartment, too!

I miss my old apartment, too!

I blame my apparent lack of maths skills for the miscalculations, but there are other factors at work. As it happens, that post is one of the most-read ones on this blog. It consistently shows up in the top ten posts on the left there, and it seems that quite a few people are interested in the topic. In the interest of not being one of the many (MANY) out of date TEFL in Korea blogs out there silently sabotaging potential teachers’ dreams with incorrect and scary-sounding information, I want to correct that post with this one.

Some of what I wrote last July is true. Exchange rates are generally shitty, no matter which end I find myself on (I’m finding this to be especially true as I prepare to move to the UK for graduate school, and my tuition keeps fluctuating literally thousands of dollars based on the ups and downs of the market.). The global economy is still getting dragged through the mud somewhat, don’t let the talking heads deceive you. I still have semi-expensive tastes in food and clothing. And above all, saving money is hard work, no matter where one happens to find themselves. But the crux of the article, that it is difficult/impossible to save money in Korea while teaching is flat false.

At the end of my time in Korea, I had a little over $11,500 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s a shitload of money. My calculations were off by almost 500%, if I did my maths correctly this time. I was able to put away almost $7,000 in the months after I told the internet I wasn’t saving any money in Korea. Almost exactly the $1000 a month promised by my recruiter before I came over. Whoops. Perceptions can be wrong!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

After I completed my contract, I received even more cash injections into my bank account. I got $4,000 in severance and my final paycheck (I left just after we’d all been working our asses off in the Winter Intensive schedule and got a little overtime). Last, but certainly not least, I got my pension money back at the end on March. Already in India for over a month, I suddenly saw $1,800 show up in my bank account.

Furthermore, I paid almost no taxes this year. Because I earned almost all my income in Korea for 2012 and the US has awesome tax treaties with the ROK, I was exempt from paying federal and state taxes. I paid taxes in Korea (around 3% of my income…that is ridiculously low), but I got to write off everything else as non-taxable income. US citizens who teach in Korea for two years or less are able to take advantage of this kickback. It’s a pretty huge one.

And now, it looks like at the end of the summer I will have almost exactly that $8,000 I wanted in the bank from the original post. Even with traveling in India for 2 months. Even with a month in England. Even though I’m only working part-time this summer.

Shit! My financial situation turned out way better than predicted!

I may need to keep this in mind as I as I lay awake at night regularly worrying about graduate school finances and apply for an exorbitant amount of loan money. Hmm.

Despite the awesomeness of my finances post-Korea, a few words of caution. The over-arching theme of that July 2012 post remains important; don’t make the experience of living in Korea suffer for the hypothetical payoff of traveling or graduate school after the contract ends.The Incredibull India experience certainly brought that home.

Far too many teachers I met in Korea spent a lot of time indoors playing MMORPGs and eating instant noodles as their only sustenance. Surprisingly many of these folks eventually ended up staying on for multiple years after the initial drive to travel turned into a desire to plant roots, meaning that the fabled travel for which they were sacrificing just never happened. Then again, everyone has their own financial preferences and circumstances. I know of several teachers in Korea who had moved abroad in large part to afford health insurance, or to pay off student loans. It would be harder to save as much as I did if those were concerns.

Circumstances also change. Last July, I thought I’d be living in the States again for graduate school. After the application process went slightly differently than planned, I’m moving abroad again (and getting a visa AGAIN). I’m also in a long-term committed relationship, which was in its infancy last summer. We can share resources and effort, and I’m not in this alone. My finances have to adjust to the new realities that come up. DSCN1994

Bottom line: It is definitely possible to save a lot of money teaching in Korea. Don’t let my old, mathematically-inaccurate, and pessimistic article discourage you.

As a final note: I am always thrilled to talk to those who want to get a TEFL career started, who want to travel more, or who want to study abroad. It’s part of my job, but it’s also my passion. Contact me today with your questions. I promise to get back to you quickly.

On Not Saving Any Money in Korea

Korean-style Caprese Salad. made with tomatoes, mozzarella, and sesame leaves. I miss eating fresh, good food every day instead of a couple times per week.

WARNING: This post is mathematically-inaccurate, slightly boring, and generally detrimental to your TEFL soul and mine. Do yourself a favour and read this new shiny post instead (from 2013!)

From the website of my recruiter, the agency that facilitated my move to Korea:

“We know some single people who live on about $300 USD a month and others who push it easily over $1000 USD per month.  It depends on how thrifty you are and how often you go out.  $600 USD is pretty reasonable for a single person. This allows for dinners, drinks, nights out, movies, small weekend trips, etc… “

With my salary and the adjustment for the exchange rate, that should have meant about $1000 in savings for each month. Ha. Ha.

I have managed to save a grand total of $828.27 in five months in Korea. My salary is higher than any I’ve had before, I have benefits like health insurance that I’ve never independently obtained before, and I don’t even pay rent! I am living on my own and out of my parents’ basement, which is a lot better than I was able to do back in Colorado. I only have to work five days a week instead of seven. This month, I managed to finally pay off my credit card expenses for the visa process and my taxes.

Considering the dire straits many in my generation find themselves in, these should be financial achievements.

And yet my goals for Korea in terms of money are on the rocks, as the cost of living appears to be almost twice what my recruiter assumes it will be. Add to that the shitty turn the exchange rate has taken in the time I’ve been here, and instead of sending home 800 USD per month, I sent $674 this month. And even with a budget of 800.000 KRW per month, or 200.000 per week, I’ve found it hard to save anything. This month and last, I’ve decided to go a little hungry and skip eating lunch for at least the week leading up to payday rather than spend my savings.

What is happening here?

Part of it is the global economy. Everything is so volitile these days that the exchange rates on most currencies are all over the place.

Part of it is misinformation. People are basing their moving to Korea on information from before the economic crisis really hit the fan in 2008, and a lot of the teachers I know refer to things in dollars as opposed to KRW. Recruiting companies may exaggerate without knowing the true cost of living, or on purpose to attract teachers. If I stay on track, I will save about $2400 while in Korea. Certainly not nothing, but certainly less than the $8,000 I wanted to save for travel and graduate school.

Part of it is me. I like to think I’m a fairly thrifty person. I don’t buy a lot of clothes, makeup, or anything else. I spend the most money on food, and I’ll admit I’m a bit of a food snob. I can’t subsist on bags of frozen chicken purchased on G Market. I prefer whole wheat pasta to instant noodles. I like to go to the sauna each week. It’s nice to have a few beers every weekend. All of those things are normal, and supposedly a part of the “reasonable” $600 budget my recruiters talked about. And yet, the 800.000 won (which incidentally is currently worth only $705 this month) I budget is consistently not enough.

I stress about money all the time here. It feels like I’m always putting things off until my next paycheck. Recently, I’ve had to remind myself that I have to eat…that I have to be clothed. Buying essentials like clothes and food shouldn’t make me feel guilty.

Am I doing something wrong here? A lot of people manage to get by on very little in Korea and use the extra to pay off student loans or save. Yet every month I get into this crush, and feel like I can’t even buy food because if I have to dip into savings to do so, I’m failing. I wanted so much to be able to travel again after this year was up, but it’s looking less and less likely.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from travel is how to change my plans to suit circumstances. Travel also reduces a person to the five basics in life (Toilet, Food, Shelter, Transport, Water). I’ve tested my limits many times, leaving me with a more informed view on just how hungry it is OK to be and just how far I can stretch a dollar.

Like I said in the previous post, I am not traveling in Korea. If I skrimp by buying frozen chicken on GMarket and stop spending any money at all on activities within Korea with an eye toward some hypothetical future trip, I’m not really living here. I would miss out on the amazing things like staying up until dawn listening to classical music with friends and wearing the Korean version of a rally cap at a baseball game.

…which is this inflated trash bag, apparently.

Living in the my present, in Korea, and actually living…that’s my real goal. And if I can’t save any money here while doing that, then it is time that goal changed.

The Job Interview Merry-Go-Round

Beginning Skype Interview Face

Second interview today. Sixth interview in four days. One offer to teach in South Korea. No call backs from part time jobs to fund my broke-ass backpacker lifestyle in the meantime. Two over Skype, one over the phone, and three in person.

I feel as though I’m riding the interview merry-go-round. It’s a strange place, filled with questions that seem more and more similar with each passing interview. That’s mildly remarkable, given that I’ve interviewed for four different industries over the last week. When someone is trained to interview, are they given the same questions despite differences in the industry?

“What were your reasons for leaving your last job?” 

 

When one adds the wonder of Skype to the mix, it becomes even more of a strange interview dance. I’ve found it hard to feed off the other person’s energy and get excited about a question when some part of me knows that I am sitting in my house, talking to a computer. My usual techniques of reading body language and tone of voice are greatly inhibited by the tiny, fuzzy, at times choppy image on the screen. I’ve realized that I kind of suck at Skype interviews.

What is your philosophy on education/coffee/fashion/bagging groceries?

It is great practice, I suppose. Since the job market is a little bit tough these days (did I say a little bit? I meant a lotta bit. Even with a college degree and two years of experience, I can’t get hired at a coffee shop), interviewers seem to be much more picky than in the past. Their interviewing styles and respect for the interviewee’s situation seem to be a different, perhaps because they know that they can afford to be choosy if 40 applicants will show up for one part-time position.

Are you comfortable with a company that prohibits unionization?

The selectivity of the interview process at times begins to feel like the employers are playing games with me. I’ve begun to second-guess myself and wonder where I made a mistake when they fail to call me back after what felt like a great interview. Was I overdressed or underdressed? When she gave me that business card, was that a hint that the first person to call would get the position? Was my tone too professional, or not professional enough? Was it underqualification, or overqualification?

And who the hell interviews a candidate in a dirty hoodie, looking hung the hell over?

We’ll call you in two to four weeks, unless we fill the position before then.

On the upside, if we ever do get out of the Great Recession and job hunting becomes easier, I’ll be an interviewing equivalent of a martial arts sensei. Or a Skype Whisperer. Eventually, I have to get some kind of position. It’s the Holidays, and retail needs help. Right? I can’t move to South Korea next year in my current incredibroke state.

If not, consider this six steps closer to me taking a GreyHound to Occupy Wall Street and giving into unemployment for at least a few more months.

Update: I got hired at an eyeglasses shop at the Flatirons Mall. Not hugely resume-building, but a job nonetheless! No longer unemployed!