An Alien’s Nightmare

Boston skyline.

I bolt out of bed, for the third consecutive morning, breathing heavily because of a nightmare I had. The tears from my eyes roll out and I put my face in my hands and release large sobs. Whatever nightmare I had, I don’t remember now, but what I know for certain is that the real nightmare was happening when I was awake: I’m being forced out of America.

I moved to Boston in the fall of 2013, a young(er), freshly graduated woman from Bangkok, Thailand who was living her dream of moving to the United States. After 23 long hours on a plane to get to the other side of the world, I see the Boston skyline from the airplane window.

Newbury Street, Boston.

Dragging three completely packed suitcases out of the Logan Airport, I saw the star-spangled banner waving in the wind in front of the airport. That was the first time I’ve ever seen the American flag outside of movies and television series, and I was convinced that my new life was about to start.

I grew up feeling lost and confused with my identity in Bangkok, having been raised in an American school from the first grade to the twelfth. I developed an American accent, laughed at American jokes and spent my time lost in American literature. I grew up to become a Thai woman who was out of place among my own people.

“…The real nightmare was happening when I was awake: I’m being forced out of America.”

So when the chance came to pursue a master’s degree, I immediately knew where to begin my search.

My master’s program in journalism at Boston University took three semesters to complete, in which time I grew more certain that I made the right choice in coming to the U.S. I immediately started my Optional Practical Training (OPT) upon submitting my thesis and finishing my third and last semester, which gave me a year to find a job and start working.

“I grew up to become a Thai woman who was out of place among my own people.”
My first issue at The Boston Courant.

The Boston Courant, a small weekly local newspaper in Boston, picked me up as its new reporter and for the next nine months, I ran around the city to government hearings, residents’ association meetings, ribbon cuttings and ceremonies. But one by one, each of my international friends left to go back to their home countries, and I was the only non-native one in my group left in America. That didn’t faze me because at that point I had already built a life for myself in Boston.

My last issue at The Boston Courant.

I enjoyed every second of my work, and became used to the idea that I would be sticking around. I thought I had a second to breathe and stop worrying about visa sponsorships but that wasn’t the case, the countdown on my time here never took a break.

My story is hardly the first one out there: the image of an immigrant dreaming to come to America to start a new life. But in this day and age, when the term “immigrant” is a word that engenders fear, skepticism and distrust, it does sting a little to be thought of as an enemy.

I’m not here to steal anyone’s jobs, I’m not here to ruin anyone’s lives, I’m just here to build a better life for myself. America is built up so much in international media and in the entertainment industry. The U.S.A. brand is one of the strongest in the world. Is it any wonder that so many people outside America salivate at the mere mention of a green card?

The process right now for a non-native worker who wants to legally be employed by American institutions or companies is ... complicated. “Complicated” would actually be an understatement.

Screenshot of the USCIS’s H-1B page. Click to be directed to their website.

The H-1B is a term that is well known in the “alien” community. It is the name of the work visa that non-Americans need to work in the United States. However, the U.S. government caps the amount of visas given out each year at 65,000. Private companies can only apply for an H-1B for their worker on April 1 of each year.

“Is it any wonder that so many people outside America salivate at the mere mention of a green card?”

Here’s the catch though: say I find work and my employers want to keep me in America for longer by applying for the H-1B on my behalf (because you can’t apply for a work visa on your own, only a company can do that), they will have to wait until April. Each year, over 100,000's applications go to the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS tosses the 65,000 visas up in the air and randomly distributes the visas without any consideration of education, length of stay or English proficiency. It is literally a $5,000 lottery for a visa and your odds are 65,000/230,000, a 28 percent chance.

That percentage doesn’t sound as bad, but when you take into account the number of those who are bending the rules and found loopholes to get cheap labor into America on an H-1B, 28 percent just dipped even lower. Immigrants, like me, who work and fight to stay through all the proper channels, barely stand a chance.

I paid my taxes, followed every rule in the book, hoping that going by doing so, I would increase my chances of staying here legally, but that’s not the case. In the next coming days, my time will be spent packing the new life I created into the same three suitcases I came here with, wishing that the nightmare will one day turn into a good dream.

My Master’s degree graduation from Boston University.
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