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.

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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?

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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.

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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.’

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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

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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

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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.

Brexit: Into the Fog

Disclaimer: I am not a UK citizen, did not have a vote in the EU Referendum, and am not white British by ethnicity. I currently live in Iceland, but as I am married to an Englishman and consider London one of my many homes around the world, the UK is a big part of my life. I consider the United Kingdom my country, too.

If these things disqualify me in your mind from giving an opinion on this week´s developments, feel free to piss off to another corner of the Internet. May I suggest this page full of cat .gifs.

I woke up Friday morning late. 10 am, GMT.

We had gone out to the end of the lake on kayaks and canoes to jump from a bridge into the freezing waters below, and not returned until midnight. The fog on the water was a dreamscape; we floated on a mirror toward it in the late sunset near the local hill and eventually disappeared into it. One couldn´t see more than about 30 feet in the fog, and it gave our tiny kayak the impression of being lost in a dew-lit morning. No shores. No birds. No wind. Gray water reflecting the gray all around us. Beautiful, but a little bit scary at the same time.

We went to sleep when only the first four of the declarations had been made. Sunderland was declared Leave just as we turned in for the night.

At the risk of sounding hackneyed, the metaphor of the fog on the lake was not lost on me the next morning. I sat wrapped in a towel on the 1970s sofa in our shared living room, having not bothered to get dressed before checking the EU Referendum results. We had been fairly sure that the vote would be In. Quick check, then into the shower.

I sat in my towel for more than an hour, unable to unglue my butt from the sofa.

“Russell?” I said, a little alarm in my voice when the BBC´s ´UK Votes Out EU, Cameron to Resign’ headline came up on the window I´d left open from the night before. “They voted out.”

Into the fog, then.

I´ve been a spectator to the paroxysms that have taken over my newsfeeds. Social. Political. Economic. At least a few of the predictions from before the vote have solidified.  Our money will go 10% shorter in Iceland, at least the part of it parked in Sterling. We had been telling people that we came to Iceland because Russ could, in theory, have a job here and stay under current rules. I´m sure everyone´s seen a lot of fights on Facebook and Twitter, the #NotMyVote reaction, the #LeaveWins gloating, and the confusion of the global market. A selection of my favourites from the ‘airwaves:’

If we vote Brexit tomorrow I’m staying in the USA and going underground. If the US votes Trump then I’ll go to Canada and drown myself in maple syrup ‪#‎voteremain

Guys, just to be clear, we’re not desperate to stay so keep your marriage proposals. It’s your economy you just fucked, not us x

51.9% of you, can go fuck yourselves.

I’m so upset for all of my European friends who feel let down and heartbroken by the Brexit, especially those with a strong connection to Britain. Most young people in the UK, including myself, share these feelings with you.
Now we’re stuck with a decision that most of the people who voted to leave will only have 20 more years on this planet to live with. However, We cannot and will not give up hope. Love must prevail over bigotry, racism and ignorance.

Too many feelings for words, really. I feel adrift in the world, in a country that doesn’t want me, pleading for changes I never get.
I really wanted to build a life here, I really did. But I don’t recognise this place.

Welcome to the Idiocracy

It seems my friends on here have similar viewpoints to me. There must be alternate news feeds I am not seeing, full of posts about how proud everyone is that the economy is crashing and how everyone can go back to where they came from now. I am genuinely gutted about the news this morning. As long as half the population (not including Manchester, London or Scotland who apparently voted the other way) are pleased with what they have done. I hope they are proud that we are the laughing stock of the world.

I’ve lived in Hackney (as you know, a very multicultural borough) for over six years and today for the first time, I heard the word p*ki shouted at someone in the street. This may or may not have anything to do with the recent referendum but I fear this is the sort of ‘legitimised’ racism that these examples attest to and I totally understand how upset and desperate you feel.

(I anonymised these quotes from people I do genuinely know since I´m not sure if they wanted to be on my blog with their names on them. If you see your words up there and want to have them attributed or want to be included, contact me!)

That last one up there is the most worrisome thing about the EU Referendum result. Steady reports of idiots empowered by the apparent opinions of their country´s voters have been trickling in on social media, and although I do not accept wholesale that the reports are all sparkly bastions of Truth, it sure as shit is possible some racists will feel emboldened. Try as they might to protest that it´s all about economics, the Leave campaign deliberately stoked xenophobic tendencies in those it wooed. Even if it hadn´t, there would still have been underlying tension.

Immigration has long been a third rail in the UK. I´m no stranger to the ways that people felt long before this referendum about those who have taken advantage of the (now former?) freedom of movement to get jobs in the UK. My blinding whitness shielded me from a lot of criticism when I was a migrant myself in the UK 2013-2015, but it also made it so that those few people who were wont to go on and on about the job stealing culture ruiners we apparently are slammed on the brakes with a blushing, backtracking, ‘Oh, well I didn´t mean you….’ when I pointed out my immigration status.

This was followed by misunderstandings about how marriage does not grant automatic citizenship, right to family life, or leave to remain once we got married in 2014. I wrote in 2014 about my envy of British citizenship:

6. Can’t Beat EU Membership 

Oh, yes. Good ol’ Figel Narage and his UKIP kin are vehemently opposed to EU membership. But let’s be honest, the chances of the UK leaving are akin to those of Scotland voting ‘Aye’ on its referendum later this year.Which is to say, pretty slim. The benefits of being in the EU are farther-reaching than most who grew up with them can imagine.

Not being a card-carrying member sucks. UK citizens can travel the world with greater ease than I because of their EU membership. They can work in any number of foreign countries on the continent, or retire to them once it’s time. They can study without barriers, and should they happen to fall in love with someone who has a membership card to this great political experiment, the doors are open.

Despite the misgivings, the EU is often led by the UK. There is no one leader of the EU, but no one can deny that the UK has serious bargaining power. I’d love to be on the cutting edge of international politics, problematic and bizarre though it often is.

That post needs some adjusting now.

I couldn´t form an opinion on the couch on Friday, in my towel. I couldn´t form one later, while we scrubbed toilets on the campsite. I still had not found a way to reconcile my thoughts eight hours of mopping and wiping up later. Even now, several hundred words that started as an incoherent journal entry later, I am not sure what I think about Brexit. But I am fairly certain about how I feel.

I feel disappointed.

On a personal level, I felt the loss of what I had hoped for some time would be the future for my nascent binational family. Me and Russ might not fit in well back´’home’ in the US or the UK, but we could always move to an EU country and stay there. It might actually have been easier for us than if we wanted to move to our ‘own’ countries with a foreign spouse. It might still be possible to live in Europe, but I selfishly wanted it to be easier than it will now be.

Lately, I´ve been toying with the idea that my generation´s political and social inheritance will be one of profound sadness, above all. The Brexit vote shows a massive, clear, and undeniable split between the voter´s ages. On average, Remain was young. On average, Leave was older. But this is not a petulant post about how screwed over by previous generations we are as Milennials, nor a post about how everyone should kowtow to the immense knowledge and wisdom of our elders that wiped 24 years of EU contributions (£200 billion) off the UK stock market in a day.

I wouldn´t characterise the Brexit as a tragedy, as so many have. Tragedy is too close to home, coming from the USA where gun violence is treated like a natural disaster (out of our hands, tragic but as impossible to prevent as a hurricane or earthquake). Nigel Farage appears to have forgotten that his ‘Independence Day’ did not, in fact, come without a shot fired. Sadness is nonetheless the theme of Brexit for me, as it is the theme of so much social and political machination for me.

The sadness that I sense in the reactions of my peers to the news this week is not new to me. It feels oddly similar to the sadness I feel about Barack Obama´s Presidency. Akin sadness to what I feel about the endless two wars that started half my lifetime ago in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadness that I feel about gun control and the huge check on my happiness that LGBT marriage was legalised in the US last summer in the form of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. The sadness I feel looking back on The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. The sadness of a lifetime of inaction and blustering on Climate Change, the single greatest threat to humans since nuclear weapons (which are still around and waiting, too).

I am part of a generation raised on the sacchrine distillation of the last days of the Cold War, our youths sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11th. Told, through oft-repeated readings of the story of Rosa Parks and the deliberate condensing of complicated 20th century history into Narrative that change can be wrought by individuals. That change is real. That we are ready for it. That change will come. Often, as with The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, it felt like things might actually be changing. Then we are back to where we were, or worse.

That is one speck of hope I have in the confusion and disappointment I feel about the Brexit. I have voted for what I thought was a change, and gotten more of the same. I have participated in more direct forms of democracy, and gotten more of the same. I have fought for years on issues close to my heart to see them pass or fail, and received the great gray sameness of the grinding gears of the same as before. This apparent pendulum swing in the direction of nativism and bonafide right-wing politics in two of ‘my countries’ in the forms of Brexit and the Trump candidacy will not make 2016 a year that lives in any particular infamy. Change happens, but slowly and haphazardly. Unless we´re talking about the Great Barrier Reef or the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Therefore I have some hope that for all their current victory, Leave voters will feel some of the same sameness I feel when looking along the long lines of disappointments. The 10% drop in currency stablised and the recession in the UK assured, things will go back to grinding along as they have for ages. The people who thought they were voting for change and even an ‘Independence Day’ by voting Leave (if all of them understood fully what they were doing, since at least a few appear not to have known what, exactly, the EU is) will not get what they thought they were voting for, except in the knowledge that Leave won a hard-fought and divisive campaign. The fog is now settling on the UK, and if it even manages to come out of this referendum intact the fog of uncertainty will hang over the country for years.

Brexit is not a revolution. It´s not a democratic triumph. It´s not a tragedy just yet. It´s a massive disappointment.

My #TravelStoke Map, 2015

Coleen Monroe-Knight’s Travel Map

Coleen Monroe-Knight has been to: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Switzerland, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Germany, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, South Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, San Marino, United States, Vatican.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Observations Of American and British TV (Telly)

Living in London was the longest I’ve ever lived abroad. The longest I’ve lived outside Colorado since I was very tiny.

Many things feel a bit off, somehow. The usual WHY IS EVERYTHING SO BIG except WHY ARE THE PINTS SO SMALL problems. But there are other things.

How few people there seem to be in…everywhere. Empty streets, day or night. Empty busses, most of the time. Large shopping centres, largely empty all day every day. Weirdly comforting Top 40s music drifting over the sofas and stairways that should hold many more thousands. Flatirons Crossing just is not Westfield in Stratford.

The unbelievable price of coffee, with its not-so-subtle notes of Burned and Acidic folded into the $15 per pound price (and yes, that’s more expensive than London even with the conversion rate). For that matter, the tea isn’t right. It’s far too light in colour and flavour. I never understood why British people insist on milk in tea. Now I know that US tea is quite a bit more watery. I may need some emergency PG Tips soon. 

But perhaps the biggest difference is the TV.

I’ve been in the US for a month, and I want my British telly back. No, BBC America is not (entirely) sufficient. I am starving for witticisms. Famished for brilliant historical documentaries. Peckish for political commentary that is actually mostly tolerable to watch. 

Television is a huge habit when unemployment creeps in. We’re sitting around my parents’ house, trying not to go crazy from boredom while we try to save money. No income coming in. My freelance gigs that I’d hoped to rely on fell through completely. Savings are flying out of hand at a rather alarming rate.

TV it is. Or would be.

There is so very little to watch. From the TV Guide menu: My 600 Lb. Life. Booze Traveler. Hannity. Nancy Grace. Skinny Gut Vibrant You. TMZ. Endless, ceaseless rerun marathons of How I Met Your Mother, Law & Order, Swamp People, and Catfish. (Ok, I might watch the endless marathons of Catfish. It’s one of the few I can stand).

It can be hard to put one’s finger on the reasons British telly is infinitely superior to US TV. It might be the fact that you don’t get bombarded with adverts every 20 seconds. Seriously. There are so many adverts that Top Gear lasts 1.5 hours instead of just one. Food, pharmaceuticals, and Full Tanks of Freedom. Repeat.

Even if we’d had a TV license at our London house, we would have had far higher quality telly to watch. It’s subtly different from TV in the US. There are intellectually challenging shows, and documentaries that have a deeper meaning than My Strange Addiction. Sure, there’s Benefits Street and Immigration Street. Guilty pleasures. Still, even the ‘trashier’ shows contribute something or challenge views. At the very least, they provoke the papers to write about it and make people think. Sorta.

Admittedly, I avoided Eastenders, Strictly Come Dancing, and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. There’s a lot of crappy British telly. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to be on all the time! I miss Winter Watch and Prime Minister’s Questions. I miss University Challenge. I miss the Undateables.

Thank all good things for my VPN.