My immigrant life: Jobless against my will in America.
So I thought I would start writing about my immigrant experience in the United States of America, given all the attention we are getting lately from the media. There is no chronological order to this because all the situations I went through are connected yet so independent from each other.
USA, the country of celebrities, the best technology, the best lifestyle, the best everything really. At least, this is what we see from the outside, on our TVs, in my case, back in Cameroon. I was obsessed with the USA, my friends were even telling me I was probably supposed to be born there because I was mimicking their culture, their mannerism, even though my english was so broken. Well all of that changed once I got here.
The day I got my student visa, it was a dream coming through. I was going to America. I was going to “kill shit”. My goal at the time was stupid (now that I think about it). I wanted to work for Apple as a software engineer. I thought it would give me some prestige having such a big name on my resume. But again, that was me watching America from the outside, actually believing it is a fair game for anyone with talent. In my country, talent doesn’t get you anywhere. Literally. NOWHERE! It does not matter how much of a genius you are, how much you innovate. Unless you have the right connections even for the worthless job, you will not be able to survive. I truly believed that in America it was not the same. I believed everyone was treated according to what they could bring in the country. I was not totally deceived but it was definitely not what I was imagining.
I have been in the country for 4 years now. College was actually exactly how I portrayed it, easier than I thought, which is a good thing… Fast forward, I was deep in job search. I quickly realized how difficult it was but I am not the type to give up. I was determined. Living in Atlanta, I was able to get a contracting job at Apple. YES, I WAS HIRED TO CONTRACT FOR APPLE AS A SOFTWARE ENGINEER!!! You can imagine my excitement but it did not last long. I quickly noticed the lack of diversity, not only at Apple but in the bay area in general. I was looked down on with my gray badge (colored badges are for full time employees, so they made it clear to everyone, you were not really hired at Apple, just on contract). I was not taken seriously. I could never stay for lunch because of how people were staring at me as if I did not “belong” there, my accent they kept bringing up… I was paid a mediocre salary, enough to pay rent, eat and pay gas… No way I could save anything from it. Anyways, another story for another day.
After a year I could not take it anymore and decided to leave. I found a full time job in a decent company and this is where the story starts. I have worked for the company for 2 years. The first year, I was definitely trying to prove myself and let them know I am… actually smart ¯\_(ツ)_/¯… I worked my butt off! It paid off eventually. I got a raise. At the time I was making $40k less than the market value. That year they also decided to sponsor my green card. I am still grateful for that but it came with a hefty price. After graduating college on student visa, the US government gives you about 2 years visa extension to figure your status out (https://www.uscis.gov/opt). You are expected to always have a job in your field of study (mine was computer science) during that time (you do have 120 days of grace period to find a job) otherwise you will be deported. So basically, don’t get fired or laid off, find a company to sponsor a more stable visa (H1B, green card etc..), or if you are lucky enough, find love and get married to a US citizen. Those were my choices anyway. By the time the company deemed me worthy of sponsorship, it was about 2 months before the expiration of my OPT. The application process ended right on the day my student visa expired. That means my status is pending (unknown) and I am no longer eligible to work in the United States of America. I was JOBLESS!! I am a very curious, dedicated and hard working engineer. All I want to do is code and build things all day. But all of that stopped. I had no control over my situation or the outcome. The lawyers told me, my pending status can last from 4 months or 8 months depending on how fast the system works. There is no expedite option and I am not allowed to live the country otherwise I would be not be able to come back unless the company decides to restart the process.
I did not have enough money saved, but just enough for 2–3 months. I had been working for 2 years only. I have had crappy incomes both years. I OBVIOUSLY sinked into depression for about a month. I had no family in the state. I had no money to buy a flight ticket to be with my sisters. I did not want to become a charge for them or for my parents either. I did not know what my future looked like. I had no clue. I was lost but God y’all… GOD… I had to break the lease and vacate my current apartment. I was paying about $2100 in rent for a studio. That is how ridiculous rent is in the bay area (but again I learned my lesson). I had to break the lease, about $4500. Thanks to God, I found a small house and the owner was willing to let me stay for $1000 but I could not stay in the house from 8am to 5pm. I had no job. What was I going to do? I wished I could stay and save on gas but no.. So I was going to the local library every day from Monday to Friday for about 2 months. Well actually, after 3 weeks, the owner kicked me out of the house because her sister was coming in town and she needed the room. She gave me 2 days to find a new place. But again God is good. I found another house. BUT, I could not watch TV with volume above 5 (meaning you can’t understand anything really) or make any type of noise. Mind you the floor was squeaky so you can imagine how much trouble I had. I was paying $900 on rent. It was a nightmare but I had my Bible y’all…During that time I was reading and searching for solutions to my situation. I saw a reddit post where they were advising to call your senator and explain your situation. That was my last hope. I sent emails, texts, calls everything… Eventually I got a reply and that was the moment I started seeing a light of hope again… My case started moving forward, I received my Work Permit 2 weeks after contacting my senator and I went back to work.
Before getting laid off, I was about to get promoted to Senior Software Engineer. My manager promised me that if my situation does not last more than 4 months I will be able to still get the promotion and he will vouch for me. He is a good person. Unfortunately, even though it was not over 4 months, every single one of my colleagues got a promotion and I did not because “ I left the company and came back”. But I did receive a $2000 bump in my salary per year ¯\_(ツ)_/¯… which was nothing trust me. Well after that, I left the company and found another with a better salary but it hurt my job search because companies did not trust that I can take up senior engineer work load. It took me 7 months to find another job, in part because I wanted to leave the city but also because I was not getting offers for the title I believe I deserve, so I settled which is my only regret but I always have a plan B.
I am grateful for all they did for me but they knew all could have been avoided had they started the process sooner, when I begged them to. They knew I was worth more than what they were offering but they also knew I am replaceable, like everyone in this industry. I do feel like it was all calculated. They knew and I understand everything is a business but is it worth messing with someone’s life? So many things could have gone wrong but you know… I thank my God he worked for my greatest good. I am grateful to be a green card holder and I am working toward never working for someone else in my life because nobody will ever know your worth like you do. America is indeed a country of opportunities but for some you have to fight for them more than others.