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.


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.


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.’



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


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.

This is a nightmare

I have had this nightmare many times.

I get to immigration, and they tell me I am barred. I can see Russell waiting for me across the border. I can’t signal to him, but only make eye contact. I argue, I refuse to leave the area. I fight. They take my passport. They cancel my visa.

In one version of the dream, I am coming back into the USA from abroad. They rip into me for living abroad and for being Anti-American. They question me. They berate me, waving my passport in my face. In the dreams, the border agents sometimes wear Trump pins.

“Are you such a loser that you can’t get a job here?”

“What are your opinions of President Trump?”

“We understand that you have been expressing dissent online.”

In one version of the dream, they take my passport and say that I can choose right then whether I ever want to see my family again, enter the USA to never leave again, or become a stateless person.

In another dream, I am barred from getting into the UK to see my husband who is in hosptial. In another, I am horrified to see that one critical box remains unchecked on my entry application. In another, a border guard gets in my face about having lived in China. In another, I don’t pass the medical exam or refuse to have a chest x-ray while pregnant.

“You’ll have to start everything over, then.”

“But the safety of my baby is more important, surely!”

I want to interject here that the closest I’ve ever been to having these nightmares come true was in Denver International Airport.

My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I had to go through separate lines at the border, as always. It was a bad day at the border, and it took more than an hour and a half for me to get through. I stood in the baggage claim area, with all our bags. Russell waited another 90 minutes.

When he handed his passport over to the agent and told him he was there to visit my family and to travel a little bit. The border agent asked him an innocuous question. 

“Where did you meet your girlfriend?”

“We met in South Korea.”

This is where the agent went off the handle. I watched in horror from the doorway of the baggage claim area while he began yelling at Russell, telling him that he was lying, that it wasn’t possible that he met me in South Korea, and giving indications that he was about to ban him from the USA. I was paralysed with fear.

I didn’t know if I could run back into the stifling border room. I didn’t know where they would take Russell if the agent refused to let him through. I had no phone with which to call a lawyer and no money to pay one.

Luckily, my husband is a calm and measured person. He took the railing and abuse on the chin, calmly stated the truth, and calmed the border agent down.

He stamped his passport, shoved it at Russell, and spat, “We’re done here!”

Welcome to my country. 

Although my family is not directly impacted by the ban on immigration and entry that Trump signed into law, I feel it in my bones.

I am in a unique position to understand what absolute nightmares those now detained in airports are feeling. The anxieties of navigating how to live as a family in the same country this century are back-breaking. No matter where one tries to obtain legal residency and work permits, it is a fraught process.

Right now, more than 170 people are detained in airports around the USA, and thousands more are in limbo around the world. Couples are being separated. Some who worked for the USA as interpreters during the Iraq War are being handcuffed and led away. Scientists, engineers, students, and artists from the seven affected countries are being told to stay away.

The merits of whole swaths of good people trying their best to have a life in the USA are being thrown out with the stroke of a pen. Ostensibly, this is to do with national origin. Clearly, it doesn’t matter to the execution of the order on the border that this is wholly illegal as a basis for denying entry to the USA. Of course, it is a paltry cover for the real reasons behind Trump’s ban.

My heart breaks for the people whose tickets have been torn up en route to the USA. These people won the rights afforded them with a visa process that is invasive, demanding, and soul-crushing. They are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. 

And yet, the implications of this ban are far more concerning.

Trump has shown that with unilateral action he can throw the US into chaos. He can immediately and without checks and balances directly impact the lives and livelihoods of Americans, American Hopefuls, and those who don’t even really want much to do with the USA.

When immigration laws change for any one group, they tend to change for all groups. Often in unexpected ways.

This means that as I sit here in South Korea, trying to figure out what complicated dance we need to do to be able to live together in the coming year, that my husband and I stand to be affected by Trump’s pen, too. He already made it clear that his whole policy is supposedly “America First.” What will happen to my binational, nascent family? Where can we go? Will Trump somehow affect my passport as an American who lives abroad?

For the moment, all those questions of mine must be on hold. I need to help my fellows. I will be calling my representatives every day via Skype until such time as the ban is lifted. I will be donating to the ACLU and refugee groups. I will not be quiet.

This is a nightmare. It must end.

Five Things I’ve Learned From a Month Listening to Alex Jones

After Donald Trump won, I had a bit of a crisis.

I went, “God damn. I listen to podcasts four hours a day. They were all wrong. I read news in four languages, every single day. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck….” They kept saying the polls were wrong. They kept saying that Trump would win. I dismissed it as drivel.

Election Day found me with my forehead on the floor in our locked teachers’ closet, NPR’s livestream of the results in my ears.

And then I thought, “Well, maybe I was wrong.”

Thus began my month-long quest to understand the Trumpsters. I had already been talking to them online for a long time. At least since summer. I ask them the same questions over and over on Twitter.

“Hello there. Can this flaming liberal ask you a few questions about #Trump?”

“Thanks! How do you feel, now that the election is over? Are you happy? Did you feel confident it would go your way?”

“Do you personally know any immigrants? Have you ever applied for a work visa (or any other visa) in another country?”

“Do you hold a passport?”

“What do you hope to see in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency?”

I don’t personally know anyone who voted for Trump. I am in my bubble. Therefore, those conversations on Twitter were my only window into a world I simply do not understand.

I started listening to The Alex Jones show on 10th November, 2016. It seemed the only rational response. Everyone I listened to was wrong. He was…right?



for the last month, I have listened to The Alex Jones Show every day. For at least an hour. Every day.

The poison is real. I caught myself thinking, “chemtrails” when I saw a plane over Busan this week. I need to stop listening to this shit soon.

I have, however, learned a few things since I started listening to “The voice of the Resistance.” Find them below. Prepare your self-medicating alcohol now, mofos. To keep myself at a sane arm’s length from the bullshit quotes below, please know that anything in italics was not said by Yours Truly.

The advertising is woven into every single aspect of the show

“I buy some, I use some, I store some, Awesome! Lifesaving Bacon. Presidential Bacon. NASA-packed technology. ready to eat right out of the pack, or warm and serve!”

I shit you not, that is word-for-word with an advert that plays several times an episode on the Alex Jones Show.

Are you an infidel who needs to buy his wife body armour for unknown spurious reasons? Look no further than the DNA Force-Hawking Snake Oil Salesman tactics of Alex Jones and his ilk. Every ten minutes there is a commercial break, which is usually the same tired thing over and over in Jones’ voice.

“When the telomeres run out, you start dyin’… And if you buy this product…I mean, we fight the Infowar! We fight the globalists!”

And other conveniently misinterpreted sciencey-sounding bullshit. Yay. Since December rolled into town, Alex has doubled down on the advertising and now spends about five-ten minutes of the parts of the show *between* commercial breaks to talk about all the amazing sales they have going on.

It’s all personal to Alex

He gets offended over things that wouldn’t draw a blush on the greenest ESL teacher in Pusan. Somebody called me a mean name. Time to set the social media dogs on them!

The UN and the Communist Chinese are trying their hardest to censor Alex Jones!!!!!! OH THE HUMANITY

He got featured on SNL this week and he played the whole segment with his own voiceover all over the shop. He’s really angry about being in the slightly satirical piece (which, if you want to hear a searing account of how SNL’s satire is completely toothless and needs to shape the fuck up in the face of a Trump Administration…listen to this biting podcast by Malcolm Gladwell from the summer!).

His response? To say that they aren’t even funny. I swear to god, my kindergarteners sling better insults in their second motherfucking language.

He says the same lines over and over and over

and over and over and over…especially about his show’s numbers and how he’s beating NPR and CNN and the BBC (whoever happens to run an article about him that week).

“We’re making freedom go viral.”

“You’re the fake news! You are the fake news!”

“This is a hell of a time to be alive.”

“They’re openly trying to steal this election.”

This is a slightly silly article here on RR, but let’s get serious for a moment. This is the mark of propaganda. People respond to hearing the same things repeated. It makes the incredible seem credible.

He’s Still Pushing Birtherism

Yes. In the twilight of 2016. Alex Jones still believes that Obama “wears a Muslim ring” and was born in Kenya.

For fuck’s sake. Your candidate, with whom you claim to have a privileged relationship, admitted he was wrong about Obama being born in the USA.

This week, Jones invited ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona on to the show to specifically contest the outgoing President’s birth certificate (Jones calls it “as fake as a three dollar bill.”).

I don’t know, you guys. I just don’t know.

He has a very foul, violent mouth

the day after the election:

“They thought they had us in a chokehold, but actually we have them in a chokehold…and we need to keep squeezing until the lights go out of their eyes.

Enemies might be his favourite word:

“Defending America from enemies both foreign and domestic…”

He advocates violence against those he deems enemies. So……

He’s a Good Laugh at Times

I cut my finger off 13 years ago but this BioPQQ has totally regrown the nerves.


To be clear, I am not laughing at the thought of Alex Jones cutting off his finger.

That is unfortunate. I am laughing that he thinks severed nerves were regrown by his snake oil. And I’m also laughing so that I don’t burst into tears that MILLIONS of people are listening to his show and believing his bullshit.

When I lived in Italy, I used to watch Striscia La Notizia. It’s an Italian show that once had dancing half-naked ladies in the opening, but which mostly is known for political and cultural satire. In Italy, one has so much political bullshit that one must laugh for fear of crying. I now understand. I try so hard. I need to laugh. Laugh!

We are now in the era of the American Berlusconi.

He’s obsessed with making refrences to 80s movies like Terminator, Star Wars, ET and He also made a movie

“When I was a kid, it was ok to be proud of the red white and blue. Mom and apple pie. And beef was what’s for supper. You want to shed some tears for the Red White and Blue?”

The movie is called REVELATION: The Dawn of Global Governance and stars Alex Jones, Charlie Daniels, and others of his ilk. I hesitate to post the trailer here because it’s all obviously bullshit, but there you go.

To be serious for a moment here, in a listicle that I hate….but I am forced to use now that it’s 2016…

I’d like to post this here, to do homage to my BBC friends. The tradition of sceptical inquiry in the face of bullshit is a uniquely British tradition.

As a nomad, I am an avowed globalist. I believe that national borders are bullshit made-up things that disadvantage us all. I have a binational, no-thank-you-we-are-global-citizens family that is directly affected by people voting against immigration in the USA and the UK (and elsewhere, since we are chased elsewhere by those who would seek to restrict us further, when we are already unable to earn enough money to afford a family life in our ‘home countries’). I think that ‘global governance’ with a strong element of municipal control is the best thing that could happen to humans. Global norms, local control. Boom. 21st century, solved.

I am your worst nightmare, Alex Jones.

Top Trumps: Week 2

Welcome to  Week 2 of the Top Trumps. It was slightly less about his personal Twitter bullshittery and more about US intelligence agencies saying that Russia intervened in the 2016 Election in his favour. Trump continues to tweet late at night and respond with venom to those who dare criticise him.

He gloated on Twitter about the media, again.

He denied reports that he would still work on The Apprentice now that he is, you know, president-elect. He said in the space of 140 characters that he has nothing to do with the show, and that he has a huge stake in its success/continuance.

Trump continues to stuff his cabinet with old, nearly dead white men. So far the only black person is Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. This is a man who not only has publicly stated that poverty is a choice and that he believes evolutionary biology is promoted actively by Satan, but a man Trump criticised in this bizarre rant about only a year ago:

“I’m not saying anything other than pathological is a very serious disease. And he said he’s pathological, somebody said he has pathological disease,” Mr Trump told CNN.

“You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.” – The Independent


Trump also called into question the usefulness of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. He openly criticised them, which appears to be unique in the history of the USA. It’s also clear that he does not value their work or information, since he is opting out of intelligence briefings in favour of tweeting and his ‘Thank You’ tour.

I find the ‘Thank You’ tour terrifying in some ways.

This is a weekly post for the foreseeable future in which I summarise what new hells Trump has visited upon us all in a convenient bulleted list. I follow this with the video of me burning him in effigy on Gwangalli Beach the weekend before the election in 2016. I refuse to normalise his rule. 

New Weekly Post: Top Trumps

Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States. I am in deep mourning about this, like many. My small-scale resistance starting this week: a list of the bullshit he has wrought upon us all this week,  accompanied by the video of me burning him in effigy on 5 November.

Week of 4 December 2016

  • The media keep flubbing about saying that Trump’s opinion on whatever will surely not be what he has said it was over and over and over again during the campaign.
  • Trump suggested during a ‘thank you’ tour that he will appoint a former general to Secretary of Defense. This breaks with tradition from literally the beginning of the USA, when Washington explicitly put the military’s control in civilian hands to avoid, you know…juntas and shit. Mattis would be the first general since George Marshall to serve in a Presidential cabinet so recently after leaving the military.


  • Trump called the President of Taiwan, breaking more than 35 years of Chinese-American understanding about how to deal with that particular issue. Then denied his people set up the call, and then whined about the attention he received on Twitter. This is the new normal.
  •  Speaking of Twitter whining, the POTUS-Elect also complained that he totally won the popular vote in the election, if one discounts the “millions” of people who voted illegally. There is no evidence…repeat, no evidence….repeat, nothing to suggest…repeat, nothing at all provided by the Trump administration to support this idea. But hey, we live in the post-fact era. I suppose if he says that millions voted illegally, then they must have magically done so. I mean, why would he lie to us?
  • Trump held rallies on a ‘Thank You’ tour which is totally not gloating or sktechily looking like a Nazi rally…oh, no. Why campaign when the campaign’s over? Why not? It’s a brave new world after November 9th. For those who think Trump as POTUS will finally, mercifully pivot to normal…nope.
  •  Trump stated that those who burn the American flag should face jail time or loss of American citizenship. I wonder what he thinks of burning him in effigy?

This is a weekly post for the foreseeable future in which I summarise what new hells Trump has visited upon us all in a convenient bulleted list. I follow this with the video of me burning him in effigy on Gwangalli Beach the weekend before the election in 2016. I refuse to normalise his rule.